With utility companies constantly needing to maintain and improve their networks, particularly in view of the current proliferation of residential development, many more of you will probably be affected in the years to come. Likewise, assuming that not all investment is now diverted to former Labour constituencies in the North, it is likely that some of you will be affected by the compulsory purchase of land for road improvements and other infrastructure projects.
Be aware, this is not a subject to be taken lightly as the implications, if your interests are not properly defended, can be serious.
There are many issues to consider when approached by an acquiring authority (e.g. utility providers or Highways England) wishing to enter your property; whether to work on existing infrastructure or to acquire new rights or land. For a start
- Do they actually have the necessary powers?
- What will the impact be?
- How can you mitigate the impact?
- What compensation are you entitled to?
- What happens if they damage your land?
- Are they acting appropriately?
- Can you stop them?
It is therefore important that you are aware of the powers they have and of your rights to representation and fair compensation.
Acquiring authorities generally have the power to enter land for surveys, acquire rights over land by wayleave or easement, and to compulsorily purchase land. These powers do vary slightly between different authorities, as they are normally set out in individual Acts of Parliament (e.g. the Water Industry Act 1991). However, they are all underpinned by common principles and procedures set out in other legislation, such as the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965.
While the strength of these rights and the ease by which different authorities can use them does vary, in most cases affected parties are entitled to compensation. In theory the amount of compensation is based on the principle of equivalence, by which landowners and occupiers should be no worse or better off financially as a result of being subject to compulsory purchase powers. In practice, sometimes landowners and occupiers can benefit financially if they play their cards right; particularly where acquiring authorities are keen to come to voluntary agreements, which is often the case, since use of compulsory powers can be time consuming and expensive. Compensation broadly falls into three categories:
- The value of any land taken,
- Compensation for any reduction in the value of land not taken, and
- Compensation for any other losses or disturbance incurred, including for your time.
The third category is particularly important for occupiers of land as it would include all business and crop losses, for example.
The threat of compulsory acquisition can be very stressful and upsetting. Therefore it is heartening to know that you are entitled to secure professional advice and representation by a suitable expert at the cost of the acquiring authority.
Among other services, they will advise on whether the authorities are acting within their rights, provide practical advice on how to mitigate the impact, put together claims and negotiate compensation on your behalf. Indeed, ensuring that you receive the correct compensation depends on the detailed recording and presentation of evidence and can involve protracted negotiations over values.
The fact that you are entitled to professional assistance is not something acquiring authorities are keen on pointing out… and with good reason. In our experience, those who are represented can often end up getting more than those who are not. At the very least having an agent should help smooth the process over and save you time, hassle and upset.
There are already a huge number of compulsory purchase and utility schemes underway across the South East, which our specialist team are involved in. We expect further announcements shortly on a range of schemes from motorway and A road improvements, to flood defences, sewage infrastructure and utility upgrades. There is also discussion at Cabinet level on the further use of compulsory purchase to deliver housing.
There are three golden rules to follow if contacted by an acquiring authority:
- Do not agree anything without first seeking professional advice;
- Make sure all agreements are in writing; and
- Always take a record of the condition of your land before letting anyone on.
Finally, the worst thing to do is to ignore the situation and hope that it goes away. Early engagement can be crucial to ensuring your interests are best protected.