Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by South Bucks District Council (IB 51)

Infrastructure Bill – Clause 29 and Schedule 4 – Land Registry and Local Land Charges

South Bucks District Council is aware of the Local Land Charge Institute’s submission and supports the contents thereof. However, we do wish to submit our own comments about our own particular performance and our concerns regarding the proposal.

South Bucks District Council operates a large number of shared services with its neighbouring authority Chiltern District Council and shares their concern with the proposal. Land Registry only proposes to provide the LLC1 and not the CON29 element of the search. This is a clear reduction in service levels as the customer will have to submit the CON29 separately to the relevant local authority. We are therefore concerned that the proposed takeover of the Local Land Charges function by Land Registry would lead to a more fragmented and less reliable service than currently exists. Whilst Land Registry prays in aid the consultation responses appearing to support their proposal, those responses were in relation to a combined LLC1 and CON29 service, not LLC1 alone.

South Bucks District Council deals with approximately 1200 searches a year consistently achieving a turnaround time of less than 5 working days. We have a high level of customer satisfaction with our service which only costs £95 for a full Official Local Authority Search. The Council operates a manual system and the responses are checked for accuracy before dispatch, resulting in a high quality service. The Council would be willing to co-operate with a Government funded digitisation programme, and considers that this would be a better use of resources than the Land Registry proposal, keeping the two elements of the search process with the local authority and improving the service at the same time.

The Government could achieve greater consistency in output and fees by prescribing the format in which responses are delivered to the customer and by setting fee levels nationally.

If the proposal goes ahead, local authorities will be left with the burden of providing data to Land Registry to ensure an up to date register. They will inevitably have to deal with any queries arising from the customer after the search responses are received, which they will remain best placed to answer in view of the local knowledge within the teams and the interrelationship with other information held by the relevant local authority.

It is extremely important that the cost of continuing to support the LLC1 function does not fall upon local authorities who will no longer have any prospect of covering their costs by charging appropriate fees.

South Bucks District Council officers recently met with representatives from Land Registry regarding this project and were very disappointed to find that the proposals will fragment our existing service to customers and the timescale for implementation stretches over some seven years. Morale amongst the Council’s officers is already reduced and, if a member of the local land charges team were to leave it is not at all certain that a business case in the current circumstances would support their replacement, jeopardising the provision of the discretionary (CON29) element of the service.

January 2015

Prepared 15th January 2015