Search ‘compulsory purchase order’ online and you’ll immediately read that they permit land to be taken from owners without permission. Then you’ll read it again, slowly, because that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that should be allowed in Britain in the present age.
A compulsory purchase order (CPO) however, is enforceable if doing so is considered a ‘public good’. For example if a railway is to be built or a town centre developed, and a landowner doesn’t want to sell. They can be incredibly upsetting or rather welcome, depending on your circumstances. Whatever your situation, there is such a thing as compulsory purchase order compensation; read on to learn more about the whole process and your rights.
The government have published five booklets explaining how the CPO system works. If you think you’re affected, you should read them, we have tried to sum up the main points and key warnings in this two part article.
Are you serious? If I’ve lived in my family home for more than 30 years, can the council just bulldoze it down and throw money at me?
They actually can. A UK Local Authority has the power to issue a CPO, providing they can show that there’s a “compelling case in the public interest”, and that compensation will be paid to those affected. This can be challenged however, and an appeal made to the High Court if necessary.
How is it in the public’s interest to kick me out of my house?!
This is understandable and the line between public and private interest is increasingly blurry. Water and telecommunications companies used to be public bodies, but are now mainly private companies. Public authorities can conduct a CPO for private development to take place.
Private developers have been known to fund the process and pay the compensation, which sometimes leads to lines so blurry that the CPO has been successfully challenged.
I should think so; it’s not right!
In a sense it can “make lawful, acts that would otherwise be unlawful”. With a CPO, the acquiring authority can enter and take your land without it being trespassing, so it is important to weigh up all possible options.
It’s possible of course that you’ve been issued a CPO without the authority needing to own your land. It might be that pipes or cables need to be laid down or other important works. With sewers or water mains, a water authority can simply give notice and then turn up, and you’ll have no right to object, although you will be entitled to compensation.
I’ve seen surveyors wandering about nearby; what’s my next step?
To find out if you’re affected by a CPO, contact the planning department of your council and find out who the ‘acquiring authority’ is.
Then get in touch with the public liaison officer to ask if there are plans to acquire your land, and what stage they’re at. If you’re keen to sell, ask if they’re prepared to acquire early.
I am affected!
OK, at this point the government stress that you must keep a record of all communication you have with the acquiring authority, and all the expenses or losses you incur. These might be able to be recovered as part of your compensation.
You can now expect the following things to happen:
Formulation: The acquiring authority might ‘walking the route’ or inspect your property and decide they require the land. They might make contact at this point, but they might not.
Resolution: The acquiring authority formally resolves to go the CPO route. A local Council have to disclose their plans. It’s good practice, but not essential, that a different body, like the Highways Agency or an electricity company, do the same.
Referencing: The acquiring authority collects information on everyone who owns or occupies the land they want. You’ll usually receive a ‘requisition for information’ form; making “false or reckless statements” on this form is a criminal offence. You might be absolutely fuming, but complete it properly and wait.
Making the Order: The CPO shows all the land being acquired and the names and addresses of all the people who ‘enjoy rights over the land’. It ALSO lists anyone who might not have their land acquired but will still be affected, for example, people whose houses might drop in value as a result of suddenly finding themselves next to a motorway.
Notification and Publicity: The CPO must be displayed in a local paper and near the land affected for two weeks. You should be contacted by the acquiring authority, but this isn’t a legal requirement, so don’t assume that if you haven’t got a letter it’s nothing to do with you. The notice will tell you when objections must be received by, which could be only 21 days after the sign goes up, so don’t delay if you have an objection.
You’re right I have an objection.
OK, here’s where you need some resolve. The CPO will be delivered to a Government Minister; you have to object to them, in writing, within the time frame specified or you won’t be heard.
The acquiring authority may alter their plans to enable you to withdraw their objection; this is in their interests, as objections from people affected mean there’ll be a public enquiry.
The government bring the blue box out again to emphasise that you should get a solicitor to make sure that any agreement between you and the acquiring authority is in legally enforceable writing before you withdraw your objection. (Don’t forget to note all solicitor’s fees, which should come back to you as compensation).
An inquiry sounds like a lot of effort.
Well, yes. It’s strongly recommended you seek legal advice. Below a certain income threshold you should get these costs back, but not the cost of legal representation. An Inspector - usually a specialist like a surveyor or an engineer - leads the proceedings.
The acquiring authority has their say, their witnesses give evidence, then the objectors question the witnesses. If you can’t attend the inquiry, the Inspector can read your statement out. Again, keep records of the cost of getting to the inquiry, or any earnings you lost to attend; if you win, you should get those back.
The Minister then decides to confirm, modify or reject the CPO; they’re not actually forced to take the Inspector’s advice here, although they usually do.
If the CPO is confirmed, you have six weeks to challenge it in the High Court, so act fast. Be aware that if the CPO isn’t confirmed, the acquiring authority can also challenge.
Let’s assume that I lost. What happens then?
The acquiring authority can acquire land in various ways:
By agreement: They might offer to politely buy the land for the price offered in compensation. Of course, they know that if you don’t agree, they can do it the hard way.
By sending a ‘notice to treat’: you’ll have to answer questions and submit a claim for compensation, again within a specified timeframe. Again, it’s worth getting legal advice on this. While this is going on, handle your land as normal, letting, selling or repairing it, although be warned that if any activity is seen to be deliberating trying to increase the amount of compensation you’ll get, it’ll be disregarded.
You’ll then receive a ‘notice of entry’, containing a date when the acquiring authority proposes to take possession. They nearly always come later than this in practice, so try not to stay up with a pitchfork the night before; it’s hard but the best thing is to carry on as normal until you move out.
By a General Vesting Declaration (GVD): Like the above, but the title of the land goes to the acquiring authority on a certain date, (the ‘vesting date’) at which time they can also enter and take possession of the land.
Click here to read part 2 discussing compensation and what you're entitled to
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