The Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee at the Assembly is looking to revise Compulsory Purchase Order guidance and possibly law, to ‘streamline’ the process to help aid regeneration.
The Chair, Russell George AM, wrote in their report: “When we reviewed the Welsh Government’s work on town centre redevelopment, we heard how derelict or neglected buildings could have a negative impact on a place. And that while using CPOs seemed a natural solution to the problem, they seldom were.”
“Forcing someone to give up their land is not a step that should ever be taken lightly. But when it is necessary, it shouldn’t be impossible, and should be done in a way that is fair to all parties. I hope our report will contribute to making a process that meets all these objectives.”
“We all want to see our town centres thrive and for people to choose to cycle and walk wherever possible. When used effectively, Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) can have a real impact in helping Councils to achieve this. However, we know that at the moment local councils rarely use them due to potentially lengthy and costly legal wrangling.”
While local authorities have a general power to compulsorily purchase land in their respective areas – as long as any resulting development will improve the economic and social well-being of an area – CPO powers also exist in other pieces of legislation specific to certain purposes (i.e. education, highways, libraries).
Current Welsh Government guidance on the use of CPOs is 15 years old and is expected to be revised. The Committee recommends that any revised version make it clear to local authorities the benefits of CPO in order to challenge “negative perceptions” of the CPO process. They also recommend the new guidance encourages two parties involved in a compensation argument to seek proper dispute resolution to avoid legal action.
The Committee suggests following Scotland’s lead by establishing a pre-checking service within the Welsh Government for draft CPOs brought forward by local authorities.
The Welsh Government has clear power over the CPO process, but a new “streamlined” law is unlikely to be introduced before 2021
CPOs were, prior to the Wales Act 2017, known as a “silent subject” – powers which weren’t explicitly devolved to Wales but in practice were because they directly related to devolved areas. The UK Government attempted to reserve/take control of CPO powers in the Wales Act 2017, but the House of Lords blocked it – meaning the Welsh Government now has unquestioned control of CPOs.
A new infrastructure consent process has been out for consultation and it’s proposed a streamlining process could be introduced where CPO confirmation could be delegated to a planning inspector instead of Ministers, as well as making changes to how costs are awarded. However, changes will require a new law and there simply isn’t enough time for this to be introduced before the end of the Fifth Assembly in 2021.
The Committee said that evidence largely suggests the biggest barrier to the regular use of CPOs was a lack of knowledge, resources and recent experience of using them by planning authorities. While the process is usually led by legal experts and solicitors, the number of skilled officers within local authorities has declined as experienced professionals retire.
Witnesses suggested the creation of a central unit could provide relevant expert advice and mentoring – whether that would be within the Welsh Government or as a collaboration between local authorities. The Committee recommended that such a central unit should be established as soon as possible.
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