Article

Streamlining Property Development - cleansing legal title

 

By Richard Walford

Housebuilders target a smooth sales process when selling completed dwellings. Unfortunately legal titles for development sites do not help as they are usually very complicated. Conveyancers, surveyors and lenders acting on plot purchases typically have to advise on and consider legal issues covering many pages of Land Registry title entries. All of this advice is expensive and causes delays. It also increases the risk of sales not proceeding. 

 It is not uncommon on modern development sites to find Land Registry title entries running to over 20 pages. All of these entries require detailed due diligence, consideration of risk and reporting. By the time that a site has been taken from planning through to plot sales, legal title will have been considered by 4 or 5 sets of advisors acting for landowners, developers, funders, plot purchasers and social housing providers. The duplication of effort is significant. It all takes time and has to be paid for by someone. For this reason many housebuilders encourage plot buyers to use the same firm of solicitors to act for their acquisition.

 As a lawyer it is common to find a growing proportion of title entries to be historic or obsolete. Typically they relate to the grant or reservation of rights of services or drainage across the site for historical land uses or expired developments.   Unfortunately, because these entries are registered at the Land Registry it is very difficult to get them removed without a lengthy process. As things presently stand it is very much the exception for developers to seek the cleansing or removal of title entries. 

 This problem is only going to get much worse over time as the Land Registry register matures. Query whether the time has come to do things more efficiently. Improvements that could be made (some of which could be actioned by lawyers now), include the following:

 1.     Controls on the creation of new title matters to ensure they are time or use limited.

2.     Giving the servient landowner the legal controls to remove entries when they are no longer applicable. 

3.     Introducing a system to "warn off" redundant title entries by permitting landowners to denote them as such with the land registry for a period of time prior to compulsory removal.

4.     Codifying and simplifying the number of title entries that can be created and having a standard set of rights and reservations for things like service media to avoid every right being bespoke. 

 The innovation of Land Registry registered titles has been a huge step forward for conveyancing over the last 50 years. The 21st century offers the possibility of taking things much further, with the power to manage data offering an ability to streamline the Land Registry regime, greatly reducing costs and speeding transactions in the process.

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