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Landowners face fines for failing to allow acquiring authorities entry to survey or value land

Authorities proposing to compulsorily acquire an interest in land, or a right over it, now have a right to enter and survey or value the land. This right is contained in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Housing and Planning Act) and came into force on 13 July 2016. Owners or occupiers who obstruct the exercise of the right could find themselves facing fines of up to £1,000.

The rights of owners and occupiers are taken into account, and the acquiring authority must comply with the following:

  • Owners and occupiers must be given at least 14 days' notice of the intended entry.
  • The notice must include details of any investigative works that are going to be carried out. Investigative works include aerial surveys.
  • The entry must only take place at a reasonable time and without force, unless a warrant has been issued.
  • If the owner/occupier is absent when the entry takes place, the person entering the land must leave it secure against trespassers.
  • In certain circumstances, a warrant permitting entry with force can be issued by a justice of the peace. This must specify the number of occasions on which it can be relied upon, and this must be appropriate to achieve the purpose of surveying and valuing the land.  If a warrant is obtained, a copy must be given to every person on whom the original notice was served.
  • A person interested in the land is entitled to compensation from the acquiring authority if they suffer damage as a result of the exercise of the right to enter and survey land.
  • In certain circumstances, written authorisation from the Welsh Ministers or the Secretary of State is required for entry and surveying. These include where the land is held by a statutory undertaker.

An owner or occupier could be fined up to £1,000 for obstructing someone exercising their powers to enter and survey land without a reasonable excuse. 

A person exercising the power of entry could be fined, imprisoned for up to two years, or both, if they disclose confidential information obtained during the entry and survey. Confidential information means information that constitutes a trade secret, or the disclosure of which would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person.

This harsh penalty should give owners and occupiers some comfort that permitting entry will not prejudice their commercial interests. However, it will not remove the inconvenience that may be caused by investigative works.

Other changes brought in by the Housing and Planning Act include:

  • Extension of the standard three year period during which the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) must be exercised. This applies if a person makes an application to the court questioning the validity of the CPO. A corresponding ability to extend the three year limit is also available for general vesting declarations.
  • Power to override easements and other rights. The existing powers to override easements and restrictive covenants are extended to acquiring authorities, such as statutory undertakers. A person can interfere with easements and other rights when undertaking maintenance or building works on or using land which has been vested in or acquired by a specified authority. There are various conditions, and limitations, to the use of the power. There must be planning consent for the works, and the specified authority must have the necessary powers to acquire the land compulsorily for the works. Also the land must have been compulsorily acquired on or after 13 July 2016, and the works must be related to the purposes for which the land was compulsorily acquired. 

With all of the commentary prior to the enactment of the Housing and Planning Act, provisions relating to compulsory purchase have largely slipped under the radar .  Whilst the government has recently consulted on changes to the compensation regime in relation to compulsory purchase, there appears to have been little consultation on these provisions.  Fines for landowners who obstruct surveys etc will probably do little to deal with what is often a difficult situation for landowners who are opposed to the prospect of a compulsory purchase.  In addition, owners/occupiers of land often have statutory obligations that are potentially prejudiced by entry on land by third parties. 

These obligations are often ignored by acquiring authorities when they serve notice on landowners requiring entry.  The extension to statutory undertakers of powers to override easements and restrictive covenants is interesting but unless the definition of statutory undertaker is widened, the companies that often provide the infrastructure are not those that could be properly construed as statutory undertakers.

Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove Jones

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at July 2016. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions 

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