Compulsory Purchase Order National Assembly 2017: minister's speech

The Minister for Local Government and Housing's speech at the Compulsory Purchase Order National Assembly held on 12 December 2017.

Welcome and scene setting

Thank you for the introduction John.

Good Morning everyone. I am pleased to see such a fantastic turn out today for this CPO National Assembly.

That shows the level of interest in this topic and – I hope – that there is an appetite to use the compulsory purchase powers available to you to deliver real change for our communities.

I believe that we have almost all of the authorities with compulsory purchase powers represented here today. Joining them are representatives from landowner and professional bodies.

I am a firm believer that hearing from others who have "been there and done that" is one of the best ways to learn and to draw inspiration from.

Today is therefore a great opportunity for you to hear from those who have utilised compulsory purchase in recent years and to share your own experiences of the system – good, bad and indifferent.

I am confident that everyone will take something useful from today's event.

The benefits of compulsory purchase

The reason I wanted to be here today was to outline my vision for the role that compulsory purchase can, and should, play in delivering our shared ambitions for Scotland.

Although compulsory purchase powers date back over 170 years to the days of Queen Victoria, they remain as relevant today as they were then.

CPOs are a proven tool to promote area regeneration, to unlock economic growth in our cities and towns, to remove blight from communities and to develop critical national and local infrastructure.

There is not a single region anywhere across Scotland which has not benefitted, either directly or indirectly, from a development unlocked through compulsory purchase.

Compulsory Purchase has helped deliver the grandest projects (for example the Queensferry Crossing or the St James' Quarter redevelopment) right down to the smallest and local projects (for example bringing a single empty home back into use).

CPO use in recent years

I think everyone in this room recognises the economic, social and environmental benefits that the use of a compulsory purchase order can deliver.

So why do we not see more use made of the powers?

Over the past 5 years 115 CPOs have been considered by Scottish Ministers.

Of these 14 were subsequently withdrawn – for a variety of reasons and 7 are still under consideration. So – in total – 93 CPOs have been confirmed by Ministers across all the different CPO regimes. Only one was not confirmed

Around half of these numbers [46] were for Transport projects.

We also know from our data that the use of CPOs varies considerably between authorities.

A handful of authorities have used CPO regularly over the past 5 years. Some have used it occasionally – predominantly for roads projects. Others have not used CPO at all.

If authorities have had no cause to use CPO, or have managed to purchase all of the land they have needed to deliver projects by agreement, then that is fine.

However, I find it hard to believe that the use of compulsory purchase was not needed in more circumstances to deliver vital projects – at least not at best value to the public sector.

As the Minister with portfolio responsibility for housing, I am regularly challenged by people who cannot understand why houses within their communities are left empty or abandoned or why vacant or derelict sites are not being developed.

In 2016-17 there were 34,100 homelessness applications across Scotland, and while this is a decrease, we continue to see an increase in demand for quality, affordable accommodation.

The most recent statistics show that there were over 12,000 hectares of vacant and derelict land in Scotland in 2016. What a wasted resource that represents.

This Government remains committed to delivering 50,000 affordable homes by 2021 and we remain on track to deliver this challenging target.

But, to do so, we are reliant on our partners in local authorities, housing associations and the private sector to bring forward development and redevelopment where opportunities exist.

We cannot afford to let opportunities pass us by or for sites that are suitable for development now to lay idle.

Why not more CPOs?

So – as I say – given the pressures on us all to deliver more homes and vital infrastructure the number of CPOs that has come forward seems, to me, to be low.

Naturally, this has given me cause to question

  • why are these powers not being used more widely?; and
  • How might we support you to overcome any barriers to use?

My officials have been visiting acquiring authorities to hear about your experiences and concerns and have been keeping me updated on these conversations.

I believe that many of you have found these discussions helpful.

From these discussions a lack of confidence, knowledge and recent experience of the process, concerns about costs, and fears about how use of these powers will be perceived are emerging as key barriers.

I would therefore like to address some of these issues and, perhaps, some of the myths associated with the use of CPO.

CPO as a last resort

As a local councilor for more than eleven years, and the former Depute Leader of Aberdeen City Council I know that compulsory purchase is often seen as "the nuclear option" or something that should only be used as a last resort because of concerns about compliance with human rights legislation.

However, extensive case law has shown that the use of compulsory purchase is fully compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights – as long as the power is exercised reasonably.

There is also nothing in law that says that CPO can only be used once all other options have been exhausted.

Compulsory purchase powers are simply a tool to be used like any other, when it is appropriate to do so.

Let me be clear – we will always advocate engaging closely with affected landowners early on and throughout the process and trying to purchase by agreement.

That is only fair and right.

But, if it is clear early on that it is unlikely to be possible to secure the land needed for a vital project by agreement then it is quite possible to move to promote a CPO at an early stage.

Equally, if timing is critical to a project – be it for financial or logistical reasons – it is possible to move quickly to promote a CPO to ensure that drawn out negotiations do not jeopardise delivery.

Negotiations can continue in parallel, but kicking off the CPO process can provide certainty to all sides about timescales.

CPO timescales

On that note – let me turn to the perception that CPOs is a lengthy undertaking.

In many cases much of the preparatory work necessary for an Order will have already been completed by the time an authority decides to proceed with a project.

For example, through the consultation and engagement that you will have undertaken in preparing your local development plan or Housing Investment Plan.

You will not be starting from scratch.

I know that there has also been some criticism of the time the Scottish Government takes to confirm Orders.

It may therefore surprise many of you to hear that for all Orders determined by Scottish Ministers over the last 5 years – the average time from submission of the Order to confirmation was less than 18 months.
This includes, where necessary, a Public Local Inquiry.

Of course some complex cases may take longer but there are more and more instances where cases are confirmed in under a year.

I am determined that the Scottish Government consideration of CPOs will be undertaken as swiftly and efficiently as possible.

Funding for CPO projects

I want to briefly address the issue around funding for compulsory purchase projects.

I know some authorities have said that they have projects where they would like to use compulsory purchase, but are prevented from doing so due to funding constraints.

I accept that funding is scarce at present. However, I also believe that we need to think creatively about how we overcome this.

For example, a considerable amount of money is spent by local authorities in dealing with homelessness and providing temporary accommodation each year, with no return on your investment.

Acquiring empty properties to be brought back into use could deliver long term revenue savings.

Local authorities can also work with partners through, so called, back to back agreements to fund purchases and improvements.

There are examples of authorities working with housing associations and private sector developers to deliver projects. I would encourage others to learn from and copy these.

Guidance and advice

It is widely accepted that the legislation underpinning CPO is complex and I am sure that this puts many authorities off.

However, the core CPO process is actually relatively straight forward.

We therefore want to improve understanding of CPOs and help all those involved navigate their way through the process.

Our current advice on the procedural requirements and law encompassing CPOs in Scotland is now 6 years old and is perhaps not as user friendly as it could be.

So we are preparing a new package of guidance which we aim to make as helpful and informative as possible – leading the lay person through the process from start to finish.

We intend to publish the package early next year.

But publishing updated guidance will not, by itself, be enough.

We will therefore be taking a number of other steps to improve the understanding and operation of the CPO system.

  1. Underpinning our work will be a set of 'Core Principles' which we will publish, setting out the standards I expect all Scottish Government staff to adhere to when considering Orders. I hope that this will help ensure consistency and high standards.

  2. The CPO Policy team remain available to meet with any authority that has questions or concerns or specific proposals to discuss. Please take advantage of the offer of a meeting.

  3. Once you have resolved to use CPO you can take advantage of a technical check by submitting a draft to the Scottish Government. We will look at it with the aim of identifying any errors or omissions – helping to ensure that Orders are not rejected or delayed later in the process.

  4. Included in your delegate pack are a number of case studies of the practical use of CPO and highlighting the benefits they can deliver. We will continue to add to these examples with your help over the coming months.

  5. Importantly though, we also want to ensure that landowners and those affected by CPO are treated fairly and have the information they need to represent their own interests in the process.

We will therefore be preparing updated advice to landowners on CPO and will be asking representatives from key organisations such as the NFU, Scottish Land and Estates, Shelter Scotland, RICS and the Compulsory Purchase Association to help us shape this.

Our aim is to better educate and inform all parties, so that objections and concerns are understood and addressed early on in the process, thus reducing the likelihood of the need for an Inquiry, speeding up decisions and reducing disputes.

Vision for CPO

I hope that I therefore leave you in no doubt as to my views on the use of CPO.

Used properly, these powers can deliver development and regeneration, the revitalisation of communities, inclusive growth and improvements to quality of life.

These powers must be used appropriately, efficiently, and fairly. But they do have a crucial role to play. The Scottish Government vision for compulsory purchase is for:

A clear, accessible, consistent, effective and efficient system of legislation and policy which allows for the compulsorily acquisition and purchase of legal interests in land and property for the public benefit.

The provisions relating to any compensation should be fair and transparent and allow for timeous settlement.

I know many of you here today will share this vision. I believe the fantastic turnout today clearly illustrates this.

Next steps

In the coming months we will also be considering (with key organisations like RICS, SOLAR and the Compulsory Purchase Association) what further improvements may be needed – including through legislative change.

We will continue to work with the Scottish Law Commission and draw from the detailed work that they undertook in 2015 and 2016.

This has given us a wealth of information on which to base our proposals.

Given the significant legislative programme – including Brexit – that will need to be considered by the Scottish Parliament in the next few years we will need to make a strong case for legislative reform.

My focus in doing so will therefore be on what proposed changes to legislation can deliver in terms of clarifying and streamlining the CPO process to make it simpler for authorities to utilise CPO when necessary – whilst also balancing that by improving the transparency, consistency and fairness of the process to landowners affected by CPO.

We must consider both in tandem.


I would like to conclude by reiterating my support for the use of CPO – when appropriate – to deliver projects that are in the public interest.

I would encourage all of you who are here today to learn from others who have been through the process, from their successes and, – dare I say it – their mistakes.

CPO remains a vital tool available to authorities to deliver real change on the ground.

It should not be used carelessly and we must ensure that we treat those affected by compulsory purchase fairly and consistently.

But by engaging with people early, being clear about what you want to do and why, and the value that you place on their land, I believe that we can overcome the issues that have dogged CPO in the past and deliver real changes for the benefit of Scotland PLC.

I hope that you have an informative and interesting day.


Central Enquiry Unit


Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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