Before any project can even begin to move forward, there are a number of issues relating to land rights and consents that need to be addressed. Put simply, there will be a number of organisations and individuals who will need to say ‘yes’ to the project proposals before they can be acted upon.
Identification of Landowners
Consent from the landowner is fundamental. If the project proposer is the landowner then this is not an issue, but there are many instances where the proposer is not the owner. Where it is necessary to seek landowner consent, the first question is "who is the landowner?". In many instances the owner can be easily identified and can be involved from the very outset, perhaps as part of the project partnership. However it is not uncommon, especially where long derelict or neglected land is concerned, to encounter difficulty in identifying a landowner.
Essentially there are two approaches to landowner identification, formal and informal. The formal approach involves instigating searches with official record keepers of land ownership. For example in England, the Land Registry can carry out a search (for a fee), which will normally provide an answer. However, where land has not changed ownership in the relatively recent past, there may not be a Land Registry record, so there are many sites for which this approach will not work. The informal approach is simply to ask around – the owners of neighbouring sites, local residents, local councils, etc. who may have knowledge that they are prepared to share.
Factors that complicate land ownership are where there is either multiple ownership within a site, or when there are different types of ownership. For example, one body may own the freehold of the site while another body may own a lease or even a sublease. The nature of lease and sublease agreements will have a bearing on which of the owners needs to provide consent. It may be all of them!
If the landowner can be identified and is able to provide consent (or better still become engaged as an active project partner) then matters are relatively straightforward. If however the landowner, despite research efforts, cannot be identified or if an identified landowner cannot be engaged or refuses consent, then there is clearly a fundamental obstacle. It may be that the landowner has entirely legitimate reasons for not consenting, in which case the proposals will have to be abandoned or amended.
Further land rights considerations
Whilst identifying the landowner is highly important, there are other considerations regarding land rights that you must look into. Covenants and special designations may bring a swift halt to your plans whilst planning processes will also need to be adhered to.
These concerns are a little more specialised and may not relate to every project or piece of land. If you would like to know more though, please take a look at the Further land rights considerations page.
If there is a single conclusion to be drawn in regard to adequately addressing issues of land rights and consents, it is to consult with the relevant local authorities at a very early stage. They will be able to provide guidance on the formal processes, important contextual information and details of many of the bodies you should consult. The local authority may also, if recruited as an ally, be able to assist in overcoming obstacles, either via exercising their statutory powers or through bringing their political power to bear.
1. Identify landowner - check with neighbours, consult Land Registry, Title Deed plans.
2. Identify easements - write to all the service providers i.e. Gas, Electricity, Water, Telephone, Cable Television
3. Consult local authorities - check for rights and statuses
4. Consult the Environment Agency - Check if within flood plain or close to any main rivers with specific restrictions.
Go to the next section - Risk assessment
Easements and covenants
This information is intended as a guide and, while it is as accurate and up to date as we can make it, it should not be used in place of specialist legal, financial or commercial advice.