Management of the local land charges register is set to be transferred from local authority to central control as the Land Registry becomes the sole registering authority for Local Land Charges (LLC). This is despite 95% of the 620 respondents to an earlier public consultation disapproving of the proposal.
Instead of the maintenance and delivery of separate land charges lists, maintained by 348 separate local authorities, a ‘one-stop shop’ digital search service will be implemented.
The rationale behind the reform involves making registration a much easier process as well as ending the ‘post-code lottery’. Fees for local authority searches currently range from between £3 and £96 while search completion can take between 1 and 42 days.
Good News for Property Buyers and Developers
As set out in the Infrastructure bill – expected to complete passage through Parliament by March 2015 –the prospective standardisation of searches and registration will also simplify the process for amending development consent orders by speeding up non-material changes to an order.
Furthermore, the bill proposes certain types of planning conditions to be discharged (upon application) if a local planning authority fails to notify a developer of its decision within a certain period of time.
Overall therefore, the bill proposes easing the process through which land in England and Wales is developed as well as purchased, in line with the coalition government’s broad legislative agenda of generating efficiencies.
Are there Any Downsides?
The Law Society, as one of the many critics of the move (which includes over 200 local authorities), has made clear that the proposition could lead to a worse service for conveyancers.
Indeed in consultation, the Council of Property Search Organisations warned that the new single-service register would only hold digital records dating back to 1999, compared to local authority town halls conducting searches from records dating back to 1926, the implication being that the 430,000 buildings listed prior to 1999 would not be revealed by the proposed digital searches.
In response, the Land Registry decided not to limit the period covered by an LLC official search to 15 years. Acknowledging that the proposed digital searches would fail to reveal various conservation areas, as well as preservation and noise abatement orders, the concession is a nod to the critics who claim the changes will put thousands of listed homes at risk as well as destabilising the housing market as sales fail to complete.
The changes come at a time when the Land Registry is having its future debated. In July, plans to privatise the £1.2bn state-owned business were shelved, following rows between Lib Dem and Tory ministers. A leaked email in the same month revealed that the organisation, which employs over 4,400 people in the UK, may be considering staff cuts.
Greater efficiency in the conveyancing and planning process is to be welcomed but property buyers should ensure that they use the services of a reputable solicitor to ensure that issues with the title are properly investigated.