Lambeth council is to spend a six-figure sum to buy land ownership data for the borough from the Land Registry which is under threat of privatisation.
Confusion over who owns what land in places like Brixton is common.
The council says that a detailed, accurate and maintainable picture of land ownership in the borough would have significant benefits for it.
A report seeking £120,000 to buy the data will be considered later this month.
Only local authorities can buy a “cut” of the database under a special offer from the registry. It would show the exact extent of all title deeds in the borough and which individual or organisation owned the freehold.
Council planning staff, according to the report, may have to make hundreds of enquiries to the registry in the course of a single development.
The council says the data would enable it to identify sites and opportunities it is not currently aware of. “There is a reasonable expectation of identifying sites we didn’t know we owned,” says the report.
It is expected to help the council to identify opportunities for “adverse possession” – a complicated legal process in which the owner of land can lose ownership of it to a long-term occupier/squatter.
It would also help the council to register unregistered land “which will help future disposals/land assembly, and provide potential additional sources of revenue”.
Other benefits listed in the council report include:
Allowing its regeneration team to analyse and prioritise sites for redevelopment.
- Save officer time.
- Enable existing council databases to be checked and updated.
- Reduce multiple checks by different parts of the council on the status of the same piece of land.
The report says that: “By maximising the opportunities available from our assets – whether through development, redevelopment or disposal – the council will provide growth and jobs either directly or indirectly.”
The cost would be covered if the data enabled the council to find even a single plot of land big enough to build a house on that it did not know it owned.
Funds for the purchase would be met by £60,000 from the New Homes Bonus grant (A government grant to help local authorities increase the number of homes in their area) and £60,000 from council capital reserves.
Maintenance of the database, expected to cost up to £10,000 a year, would come from existing budgets.
Recently announced plans to privatise the Land Registry, which holds details of the ownership of millions of properties in England and Wales, have been condemned as opening the way to corruption and abuse of land management.
Critics say the plan is a short-term bid to raise cash and that public control of land ownership data is vital to transparency in land deals.
Opponents of the sell-off include John Manthorpe, a former chief land registrar. He said: “The Land Registry is self-financing, operating at no cost to the public purse. It has an excellent record of holding and reducing its costs and its fees to the customers. It pays an annual dividend to the Exchequer.
“It is not an activity that any responsible government can transfer to the private sector.”