Councils ‘under-using CPO powers’ to secure housing sites

But the same study has over half of the councils responding citing lack of land as the biggest barrier to delivering homes.


Councils have considerable scope to step up use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) that secure housing sites, a survey shows.

Despite the dip, the research – released by real estate law specialist Womble Bond Dickinson LLP – reveals high success rates where CPOs are sought.

The same report sees over half of the councils responding to the study’s online survey citing the lack of land as the biggest barrier to delivering homes –along with financing issues such as the HRA borrowing cap.  

Overall, submissions of Planning CPOs are shown to have decreased by 30% in 2016 with 40 applications compared to 57 in 2015 and 58 in 2014.

However this is still higher than the 36 submitted in 2013 – the lowest level since 2003.

Housing CPOs specifically also saw a dip from 54 submitted in 2015 to 39 in 2016.

These figures are toward the lower end of the range of CPOs submitted annually in the years 2003-16..

Though the continued use of CPOs and their high success rate is acknowledged in the report as encouraging, the use of planning CPOs in 2016 still falls short of pre-recession levels and a ‘new normal’ for a lower number of CPO submissions made each year appears to have been established.

Success rates for both kinds of CPO remain high.

The figures indicate that for Planning CPOs at least 87% in 2015 and 82% in 2016 succeeded – and this may be even higher when considering withdrawn CPOs due to acquisition by agreement.

For Housing CPOs the equivalent figures are at least 93% in 2015 and 94% in 2016 with the level of success consistent with previous years – demonstrating an established, long-term trend.

The regional hot spots for use of compulsory purchase submissions between 2003 – 2016 are the North West of England and London, followed by the West Midlands.

But the report suggests that while many authorities have used their compulsory purchase powers they do so sparingly – a relatively small number of authorities account for a significant proportion of CPOs made.

CPO totals in the London region reflect a wider and more regular use of powers.

Even against that background of broader usage the programme of Housing CPOs made by Newham stands out.

In the North West, the extensive use of housing compulsory purchase powers by Burnley and Wigan Councils, and of planning compulsory purchase powers by Liverpool and Manchester City Councils respectively, contribute significantly to the results.

In the West Midlands, Birmingham and Wolverhampton Councils have made substantial numbers of Housing CPOs, with the former also making 19 Planning CPOs.

Given the high success rates of CPOs there is scope for greater use by those authorities that already use the powers and for other authorities to consider their use, the report says.

The failure rate for housing CPOs is largely fact specific but for planning CPOs reasons include: a failure to assess alternative schemes, planning permission not conclusive of need and Public Sector Equality Duty issues.

Jonathan Bower, Planning Partner at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson LLP, said acquiring authorities can take comfort from the good prospects of success but must use CPOs with care and pay close attention to the circumstances of each case to meet legal and policy requirements.

Where the use of compulsory purchase requires a supporting policy base – being most successful when there is strong political will to use the powers – Bower cited the draft London Plan as setting a framework for the future use of CPO powers in conjunction with the borough councils to deliver new housing in particular.

Melanie Leech, Chief Executive of the British Property Federation, said the study showed councils need to supported in understanding of the tools at their disposal to reinforce regeneration – especially with proposals for Garden Towns/Villages coming forward and the need for more development on complex urban sites.

“Increased use of CPOs will not act as a silver bullet to addressing these challenges, and there are other means of supporting the development of new housing and regeneration – better resourcing of planning departments; improved and more transparent engagement between the public and private sector; and innovative thinking around infrastructure funding, for example,” said Leech.

“However, even if we are to accept these relatively low levels of use as the “new normal”, it is clear that increasing its use could still go a long way to unlocking more sites and more housing,” she said.

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