Recent speculation over the future of HS2 high speed railway in the UK has raised the prospect of significant numbers of compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) being needed.
Local authorities can use CPOs to force property owners to hand over land or property without their permission where there is a compelling public interest in them doing so. This is usually where large public infrastructure projects such as motorways or HS2 require privately owned land to be built upon in order for them to go ahead.
As one would expect, there are very strict rules that govern how local authorities can go about acquiring land in this way with compensation for property owners forming an important part of the rules.
One of the primary CPO mechanisms is a general vesting declaration (GVD) under s.1 of the Compulsory Purchase (Vesting Declarations) Act 1981 and the Compulsory Purchase of Land (Vesting Declaration) Regulations 1990. The other is notice to treat (NT).
What is a General Vesting Declaration (GVD)?
Under Parts II and IV and Schedule 1 the 1981 Act, local authorities and other public bodies can acquire land by means of a general vesting declaration (GVD). The provisions apply both to registered and unregistered land.
A GVD is simply a statutory procedure through which a local authority can acquire the ownership of land and property within a limited time frame, generally around 3 months. Once completed the local authority acquires both the title to the property and rights of possession.
How Does a General Vesting Declaration Work?
A general vesting declaration is effectively a two step procedure.
Firstly the local authority intending to acquire the property, the Acquiring Authority, must serve a prescribed statement upon the landowner. It must state that the property will vest in the Acquiring Authority following the vesting declaration at the end of the period referred to in the GVD. That period must not be less than two months.
The second part of the procedure is the serving of a notice that the GVD has been made. This must state the date upon which the Acquiring Authority will actually take possession of the property which cannot be effective until at least 28 days from the GVD.
Limitations on General Vesting Declarations
Certain interests such as a minor interest (e.g. a monthly rolling tenancy) or the balance of a long tenancy that is about to expire cannot be dealt with using a GVD. The notice to treat (NT) procedure must be used instead.
If the NT procedure has already been commenced in relation to a piece of land then the GVD procedure cannot be used unless the NT procedure is withdrawn first. Notably GVD procedures themselves cannot be withdrawn.
CPOs must generally take place within 3 years of the press notice confirming the CPO. However, there is legal uncertainty around whether the GVD procedure must be started or completed within this time frame to be valid. Therefore it is generally assumed that the property must have actually vested before the end of 3 year CPO time limit.