The Housing White Paper ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, published on 7 February 2017, identifies that compulsory purchase law gives local authorities extensive powers to assemble land for development and that recent and proposed legislation (the Housing & Planning Act 2016 and Neighbourly Planning Bill) is reforming CPO process to make it clearer, fairer and faster. As a result, planning authorities are encouraged to use these powers, particularly in areas of high housing need.
Whilst local authorities do have powers which are simply presented and appear extensive, the Government Guidance that sits behind them requires an authority to demonstrate in detail how it intends to use the land it is proposing to acquire and to show there are no impediments – such as planning, funding and developer procurement – to these proposals proceeding. In order to do this, the authority needs to have the appetite and ability to proceed, the resource and financial commitment, and confidence in the system. Whilst the CPO is process is a useful tool - and often an essential ingredient - in providing land for development, commencing the process is not straightforward particularly if the authority has no recent experience or is put off by the misconceived perception that the CPO process is a generally adversarial action.
Recent and proposed legislative changes tinker with some parts of the compulsory purchase process. These changes should result in a fairer deal for landowners and perhaps bring slight clarity to what is largely an opaque process. However, they are unlikely to speed up the compulsory purchase process which can typically take 18 months or more. More significantly, these changes do not relate to the front end of the process and are unlikely to do much to influence the decision of a local authority to promote a CPO in the first place: this requires an understanding of the process, an ability to commit and confidence in the process.
The White Paper also proposes to encourage more active use of compulsory purchase to promote development on stalled sites for housing. It announces that the Government will be consulting on, and then preparing, new Guidance to local authorities to support the build out of stalled sites. This Guidance – which might helpfully be extended to cover existing powers of compulsory purchase – may require a substantial shift from the current arrangements which require the local authority to retain control and demonstrate certainty of change. The proposals considered in the White Paper suggest that stalled development sites might be capable of being “unlocked” by compulsory acquisition followed by disposal in the market. It will be interesting to see how the consultation responds to how this can successfully be used to ensure that use of CPO actually increases the likelihood of development completing within the desired timetable.