Plans to privatise Land Registry postponed say FT

Thursday 08 September 2016

A plan to privatise the Land Registry, the body that has recorded the ownership of property in the UK since 1862, has been quietly postponed by the government. says the Financial Times.

The FT reports:

The proposal was part of a £5bn programme of sell-offs planned by the Treasury under the former chancellor George Osborne.

But there was trenchant criticism from the Competition and Markets Authority and John Manthorpe, the former chief land registrar, who argued that a change in status could threaten the service that the registry provides.

The Open Data Institute, which was established by the government in 2012 to promote transparency, the unions and other anti-privatisation campaign groups also fought the sale.

One person with knowledge of the plans said: “No decision has been taken on the future of the Land Registry.

“A consultation on the Land Registry closed in May and we are carefully considering our response. It is only right that new ministers take time to look at all their options before making a decision.”

Sajid Javid, the former business secretary, announced the consultation before Easter and legislation to enable the privatisation was included in the Queen’s Speech in May.

Although the registry is part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, it is self-financing, so costs taxpayers nothing. As well as recording the ownership of land and property in England and Wales, the registry retains registers on land charges, writs and orders, and produces data on house prices and transactions that are used by the government to make policy decisions.

Vince Cable, former business secretary said that he blocked the privatisation during the coalition because it would not have raised much money. “The only rationale behind the proposed sell-off was dogma. I am glad the minister has seen sense.”

The main purpose of the neighbourhood bill is to help the government meet its ambition of delivering 1m new homes with an emphasis on “empowering local communities”.

The legislation includes a promise to ensure that “pre-commencement planning conditions” — seen as a barrier by some developers — are only imposed by councils where they are absolutely necessary.

It will also seek to speed up the compulsory purchase order system under which properties can be forcibly bought to make way for new developments.

The original bill also proposed putting the new National Infrastructure Commission, which oversees Britain’s priorities for new schemes, on a statutory basis, but this also appears to have been postponed. The government declined to say whether it still intended to give greater powers to the body, which was set up last year to remove critical decisions on roads, broadband, energy and housing from the five-year political cycle.

Ralph Smyth, head of infrastructure at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “With the National Infrastructure Commission not due to publish its first National Infrastructure Assessment until 2018, it appears that the new government feels there is no great rush to give it a statutory footing. Independence from government, secured through legislation, will be critical if the commission is to be credible in assessing future infrastructure needs.”