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Housing white paper announces plans for complete and open Land Register

Tom Kenny

Earlier today the housing white paper announced exciting plans about opening up the Land Registry. This is something Shared Assets and others have been fighting for, and sounds like an incredibly positive step. This blog outlines some of the key proposals and what they might mean.

1. The Government is proposing the free release of its commercial and corporate ownership, and overseas ownership data sets

1.21 The Government also proposes to [release], free of charge, its commercial and corporate ownership data set, and the overseas ownership data set

This doesn’t mean the Land Registry is opening up all its information, but it does cover over 3.2 million title records! We’re not totally sure what is and isn’t covered by this new release, but it looks like it might cover a lot of ground. It will certainly include all land registered as owned by companies, local authorities, and housing associations. For each record it will include the:

  • land description or property address with the administrative area
  • name and address of the legal (commercial and corporate) owner(s)
  • date the owner was registered at Land Registry
  • ownership category
  • title numbers tenure (freehold/leasehold)

More on this data here.

2. They are also announcing a push for a complete register of who owns land in England and Wales, with a target of achieving this in full by 2030

A.32 As part of these changes the Government will ensure completion of the Land Register. Currently 83% of the land in England and Wales is registered, but we need to go further. Opening up land and property data will make it easier for communities and authorities to engage in and make informed decisions about planning, development and investment. HM Land Registry is committed to achieving a more open and digital Register and will aim to achieve comprehensive registration by 2030.

Amazingly we still don’t have a complete record of who owns our country, but this announcement may be the start of changing that. It remains to be seen how these targets will be met, but if they are it will mean the public should finally be know who owns the land in their country.

3. They are also recognising the importance of registering beneficial ownership and options to purchase land in the future

1.20 The Government will consult on improving the transparency of contractual arrangements used to control land. Following consultation, any necessary legislation will be introduced at the earliest opportunity. We will also consult on how the land register can better reflect wider interests in land with the intention of providing a ‘clear line of sight’ across a piece of land setting out who owns, controls or has an interest in it.

1.21 The Government also proposes to improve the availability of data about wider interests in land by publishing a draft Bill to implement the Law Commission’s proposals for the reform of restrictive covenants and other interests.

At the moment developers, supermarkets and other land bankers don’t even have to buy the land they want to bank. They can buy an option to purchase the land when it comes up for sale. This enables them to monopolise land, and keep it out of the market. At the moment there is very little transparency around this, and so its hard to know even how much of it is going on. Hopefully this should now change. We should be able to know not only who owns land, but who has any stake in it.

4. The Land Registry is clearly and powerfully presented as a public land and property data service. This will involve closer working with the Ordnance Survey to provide the clear and transparent information on land that the public deserves.

A.30 To help tackle this HM Land Registry will be modernised to become a digital and data-driven registration business within the public sector.

A.31 A modernised Land Registry will also aid better data sharing across government for the purposes of supporting development, ensuring financial stability, tax collection, law enforcement and the protection of national security. The Government will examine how HM Land Registry and the Ordnance Survey can work more closely together to provide a more effective digital land and property data service.

After a few failed attempts to privatise the Land Registry, this announcement is incredibly refreshing. It recognises the value of a public land and property service, aimed at providing a service for the people of the UK. Such a service can provide high quality, transparent information on land and ownership, which will benefit everyone. We hope that Ordnance Survey and the Land Registry can combine their services to make the UK a world leader in land data.

Shared Assets and a wide range of other organisations have been pushing for these changes in recent months, and these announcements are very welcome. However some questions remain:
  • How will the corporate and commercial data be released? The way in which it is released could have big impacts on how it can be used.
  • Will other areas of the Land Registry data be released? This is a great start, but should we have a wholly transparent register, as exists in some other places internationally?
  • How will 100% coverage be achieved? A range of new triggers and incentives will be needed to encourage people to register their land.
  • What licensing restrictions will apply? Previously when INSPIRE ownership polygons were released, their re-use was extremely limited due to their attachment to restrictive Ordnance Survey licensing conditions. Will the Government recognise the need to avoid this?

For now, this all sounds like a really big step forward! We are particularly excited about the opportunities this presents for mapping ownership with our online platform Land Explorer. Land-based businesses we support often list ownership information as a crucial need, and now we are one step closer to being able to provide it to them.

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