Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by the District Councils’ Network

Infrastructure Bill – to Part 4: Planning, Land and Buildings – Land Registry (Clauses 29 and 30)

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) is a cross-party member led network of 200 district councils. We are a Special Interest Group of the Local Government Association (LGA), and provide a single voice for district councils within the LGA. We lobby central government, the political parties and other stakeholders directly on behalf of our members, as well as commissioning research, providing support, and sharing best practice.

The DCN welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence on the Infrastructure Bill. The focus of our evidence is the proposal to centralise local land charge registers by transferring the functions vested in local authorities to the Land Registry. The DCN would urge the committee to reconsider this proposal.

When the Government consulted on this measure earlier this year there was an overwhelming majority of stakeholders opposed to the proposals. Very significant concerns were expressed by many responders to the consultation. We would like to draw the committee’s attention to some of the key concerns raised:

· Under current proposals local authorities will still have to compile, check and verify data for the Land Registry system, and there is currently no explanation as to who will cover the costs of this (they will have lost the LLC1 income stream).

· Clarification would be needed as to possible financial implications for LAs and fees payable to LAs by LR for use of their data. The DCN is calling for a firm commitment that the transitional costs are met in full under the new burdens doctrine, and all ongoing costs.

· Local authorities will be responsible for the data and will be held to account for any omissions or inaccuracies – despite the fact the Land Registry will have the power to adjust and amend the data.

· Local authorities (LAs) currently provide LLC services computerised to varying degrees (and in a few cases not at all), using a variety of bespoke and other IT systems. LR would need to demonstrate that it could commission and support an IT system capable of matching the service provided by different IT systems in 350 LAs nationwide.

· LA and LR property databases would need to be fully matched to enable accurate data transfer and maintenance. Not all property databases are currently fully matched even within individual LAs.

· LLC officers currently ensure that hundreds of different kinds of information, affecting from one to several thousand properties, are registered in the right part of their varying registers/databases and against the right property(ies). This is generally based on many years’ experience and local knowledge and with varying local procedures. LR would need to be able to guarantee that it could manage this task with no disruption to service provision and/or accuracy of data

· Most queries that LLC officers have about properties, registrations and other data are currently resolved by contact on one site with officers within the same authority. LR would need to show that this could be done with data providers (LAs) and registrars (LR) hundreds of miles apart and with the latter having little or no local knowledge.

· Requests following receipt of completed searches for clarification of entries on them, and the provision of copies of documents referred to therein, are currently handled within LAs. Clarification would be needed as to whether this work would be transferred to LR or remain the preserve of LAs.

· Clarification is needed as to how, if at all, personal searches [12] would be provided. Clarification is also needed as to whether LAs (as originators of information) and/or LR (as holder of information) would be required to make information available under the Freedom of Information Act and/or Environmental Information Regulations.

· New legislation would be needed to transfer the LLC function from LAs to LR.

· LR might wish to consider piloting new arrangements before proceeding to a national scheme, possibly in areas where the allocated LR office for a local authority is within that authority’s administrative area."

· Dedicated local authority Local Land Charges IT systems have been in use for over 20 years, and undergone continual development with their partner software providers in the private sector. Land Registry has spent a year, and £1.3m, to produce a system which is in no way capable of coping with the volume and complexity of searches and data that local authorities deal with on a daily basis.

· Land Registry now proposes to abandon all the existing tried and tested local authority systems, and develop a completely new untried and untested system. This may or may not, in a live environment, be able to handle the nationwide demand for searches and the volume of minute by minute amendments to the Registers that ensure their currency, accuracy and reliability.

The District Councils Network (DCN) remains very concerned that centralising local land charges registers entails high risk and is of the view that the proposal should be reconsidered. Of particular concern to us is the impact upon the operation of the property market if there are problems with the IT system being developed to support the centralised local land charges register and the transfer of data from local authorities.

The DCN wishes to make clear that it is not seeking intervention for reasons of self-interest because local authorities currently maintain local land charges registers; it is because we believe the damage that could be caused to the operation of the housing market and thus to the national economy is so substantial should there be technical problems with an as yet untried and untested IT system that the risk is too great to be acceptable.

The DCN believes it would be failing in its public duty if it did not draw to the attention of the committee the consequences that could arise if technical problems occur.

If the committee are not persuaded that the proposals should be set aside then we would urge you to at least delay implementation until all technical issues have been resolved such that there will be no adverse consequences for the smooth operation of the housing market. The DCN would also recommend that Government carry out an independent review that engages local authorities and other stakeholders in order to assess options, costs and impacts of improving and standardising local land charges services.

January 2014

Prepared 16th January 2015