Land Registry presses ahead with central searches
Ministers have owed to plough on with centralising land searches - even as they abandoned a controversial sell-off of Land Registry.
As expected, the likely £1bn privatisation of the 150-year-old institution - which employs 4,500 civil servants - has been suspended indefinitely, the government announced today.
The decision followed strong criticism from solicitors and trades unions about putting a private firm in charge of all land and property data and the threat of higher charges for the public.
The department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) admitted that 91% of respondents to its consultation did not believe the shake-up would deliver services "more efficiently and effectively". In addition, 88% of respondents "did not agree that the overall design provides the right checks and balances to protect the integrity of the register".
In recent weeks, the Liberal Democrats had made clear they were getting cold feet - over a deal that the Conservatives hoped would raise substantial funds for the Treasury.
Business minister Michael Fallon told MPs: "Given the importance of the Land Registry to the effective operation of the UK property market, we have concluded that further consideration would be valuable. Therefore, at this time, no decision has been taken to change Land Registry's model."
However, the statement to MPs made clear the Land Registry would press ahead with creating a single local land charges register, instead of separate lists maintained and delivered by 348 local authorities.
The idea has sparked criticism that it will put thousands of listed homes at risk and even destabilise the housing market, resulting in home sales falling through.
The Council of Property Search Organisations had warned the register would only hold digital records dating back to 1999 - while town halls routinely search records going back to 1926. That meant 430,000 buildings listed before 1999 would not show up on searches for buyers of those properties, CPSO said.
Conservation areas, tree preservation orders, noise abatement orders and private sewers were other important issues that might not show up.
But a BIS spokeswoman said fees currently vary between £3 and £96 across the country - and turnaround times are between one and 42 days.
She said: "One register would provide better access to property information and a more streamlined conveyancing process, making it easier to register a property in the UK."
And Fallon told MPs: "Measures introduced in the Infrastructure Bill are changes required for Land Registry to play a wider role in the property market and to take on responsibility for providing a single, digital local land charge register."