Compulsory purchase in Scotland: guide for property owners and occupiers

Guidance for owners and occupiers who believe they may be affected by a compulsory purchase project.

1. What is a compulsory purchase, why are they needed, who can apply for one and how might it affect me?

1.1. A compulsory purchase that has been authorised empowers an Acquiring Authority to purchase property, or an interest in property, without the owner or tenant's consent. Compulsory purchase powers are an important tool to enable projects that are considered to be in the public interest to proceed, but where agreement for the acquisition of the property cannot be reached. They will normally (but not always – e.g. where large numbers of properties are involved) be used once attempts to purchase the property by agreement have failed.

1.2. A wide range of Acquiring Authorities possess compulsory purchase powers related to their purpose or functions – for example, local authorities have powers to purchase land compulsorily to provide local roads, schools and housing. The powers that an Acquiring Authority has, and the purpose for which they may be used, are set out in an Act of the Scottish or UK Parliament. The Act will also prescribe the formal legal process that the Acquiring Authority must follow to have a compulsory purchase authorised.

1.3. Whilst an Acquiring Authority can seek permission for the purchase, all instances of compulsory purchase must ultimately be authorised by Scottish Ministers (or UK Ministers if undertaken by an authority under reserved UK powers). Thus, Acquiring Authorities cannot unilaterally utilise their compulsory purchase powers.

1.4. If a compulsory purchase is authorised then the Acquiring Authority must pay appropriate compensation, but it can take both legal and physical possession of the property before agreement on the amount of compensation to be paid is reached.

1.5. If you are subject to a compulsory purchase you may therefore be required to relinquish possession of (or title to) your property, or to allow the Acquiring Authority (or someone engaged by them) access to it. However, this can only happen if:

  • The compulsory purchase is confirmed (i.e. approved) by Ministers;
  • Any legal challenge to the compulsory purchase has been exhausted; and
  • The Acquiring Authority has served formal notices taking ownership or access.

1.6. A compulsory purchase may affect all or only part of your property, as the Acquiring Authority can only seek permission to acquire the property it needs to deliver its project – no more and no less.

1.7. Special arrangements for paying compensation and minimising the impact on the part of the property that you retain apply if only part of your property is affected (see Section 4).

1.8. Having your property purchased compulsorily can be distressing and you may be tempted to ignore the proposal in the hope that it does not proceed. However, an Acquiring Authority may still be given permission to proceed with the compulsory purchase if it has not received a response from an owner or tenant.

1.9. You are therefore strongly advised to respond timeously to attempts by an Acquiring Authority to contact you. You will have the best chance of influencing the proposal, minimising the impact on your property and receiving any compensation that you are due promptly if you respond to and positively engage with the Acquiring Authority as early as possible.


Email: Sam Anderson

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