In the second of our series on compulsory purchase, we turn to what you should do if your property is at risk of compulsory acquisition.
The first thing to do is brace yourself – the process is long, often slow and can frequently feel stacked against you. There are, though, key steps which can, and should, be taken to minimise any negative impacts.
It's good to talk
It's imperative to engage with the acquiring authority (i.e. the authority with the compulsory powers). It may be that, in discussing why the acquiring authority needs your land, there is in fact no need for compulsory acquisition – if, for example, it is only required temporarily for a site compound and you're willing to grant those temporary rights of use. If the acquisition isn't avoidable, you may at least be able to agree the terms (including the timing of) any transfer, helping to maintain some control of the process, and minimising disruption to your business.
It is very rare for an objection, or even multiple objections, to put a stop to a CPO. So why bother? Given that an objection by a landowner can compel an inquiry, if used wisely it can significantly enhance your position.
An acquiring authority will usually want to minimise the number of objectors by the time the inquiry arrives for a variety of reasons. Shorter inquiries are usually cheaper and the authority may be concerned about the PR harm of significant objections. If an inquiry can be avoided altogether, more the better. So an acquiring authority is often most willing to reach agreement with landowners during this crucial window. In fact, in recognition of these benefits, government guidance even confirms that it may be "best value" for an authority to pay slightly more than may otherwise be due to a landowner, to remove their objection before the inquiry.
And a "deal" needn't always be about compensation – it may be that your primary objective is protecting the operation of your business. Examples of benefits we've secured during this crucial time include protecting retail tenants by preventing acquisition of their units until after the festive period, and avoiding significant highways works which could deter shoppers.
Laying the foundation for a robust claim
Given the complexity around CPOs, having an expert team to support you is imperative. As well as good legal advice, this will usually include a specialist valuer, able to navigate the many nuances of CPO compensation. This will help to ensure that you don't trip up procedurally or lose out financially. The good news is that the reasonable costs of these professionals are recoverable as part of your compensation, so you shouldn't end up out of pocket in the long run.
As we'll explore in the next blog, there are many other costs which can be recovered as part of your compensation. However, all of these need to be evidenced, and this is where many claimants come unstuck. It's much easier, and often more persuasive, if details of these costs are collated as you go along, instead of trying to pull everything together when you make the final claim. Try to keep full records of all the time and money spent as a result of the CPO.
Prepare for the worst
There will be times when the compulsory acquisition of property is inevitable, and despite the often lengthy process of getting the CPO, the actual taking of possession can happen relatively quickly.
Once a CPO has been confirmed, the acquiring authority has various procedural steps to follow, but can ultimately take possession of land with only three months' notice – and even less for some older CPOs which may not have been fully exercised yet. Trying to relocate a business in that timeframe can be extraordinarily challenging, and it is often necessary to take preparatory steps such as identifying potential new premises even before the powers are confirmed, and certainly before the relevant notices are served.
A note of caution though – although these costs are recoverable, it is rare to receive them until after you are dispossessed, meaning that a landowner effectively needs to fund their own relocation with the expectation of recovering the cost.
We'll explore this and some of the other complexities around CPO compensation in our next blog in the series.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.