Could your land be subject to compulsory acquisition for an infrastructure project?
Following the much anticipated recent opening of the Queensferry Crossing, it is perhaps an appropriate time to cast our attention to some of the property law aspects of the delivery of national infrastructure projects and their smaller local cousins that crisscross the country at any particular time.
If your land is subject to a compulsory acquisition, the legislation that will apply will depend on the type of scheme or infrastructure being proposed. Rather confusingly there are separate statutory regimes for works involving gas, electricity, water and sewerage, railways, roads, telecommunications and pipelines. There are even individual Acts of the Scottish Parliament passed for especially high profile projects, for example the Forth Road Bridge Act 2013 and the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Act 2007.
The legislation generally provides that compensation is due where land is taken and there are some checks and balances on the acquiring authorities and scheme providers which, broadly speaking, mean that they can only take land from you that they actually require. The overarching principle is that the extent of the land take must be matched or outweighed by the wider benefit to society i.e. the interests of the general population must be great enough to outweigh the legitimate personal property rights of affected landowners. The legislation also obliges acquiring authorities to consider alternative/less disruptive routes and to take landowners’ opinions into consideration.
The general legal principles that govern the powers of compulsion enjoyed by infrastructure scheme promoters and the process by which they acquire legal title to land are however much the same regardless of the nature, size and total value of a project. The methodology for calculating compensation due to the dispossessed landowner is also very similar regardless of scale and compensation is the area to focus on if faced with compulsory purchase of your land. In practical terms, there is little you can do to stop your land being acquired if an acquiring authority or scheme promoter decides they need it, but with the appropriate advice you can ensure that you are adequately compensated for your losses.
The headline figures in respect of the Queensferry Crossing are impressive:
Longest triple tower cable-stayed bridge in the world (650m)
Highest bridge towers in the UK (210m)
23,000 miles of cabling used (almost enough to go once around the earth!)
35,000 tonnes of steel in the bridge superstructure (equivalent to approximately 200 Boeing 747s)
150,000 tonnes of concrete poured (as much as was used in the entire Olympic Village)
10,000,000 man hours involved in construction
£1.3 billion total construction cost.
But what about the headline figures for you when being dispossessed of your property for the greater good? There are a number of different elements to consider:
Acreage – How much land and of what grade do they propose to take from you? Is it land capable for use for growing potatoes, vegetables or other valuable crops, or is it permanent pasture, rough grazing, commercial or amenity woodland or roads, yards and buildings?
Access – What distance/quality of access will be lost and what might you require to replace it satisfactorily?
Amenity – The proximity of your remaining property to road, turbine or pylon noise, smells, dust, pollution, and general interruption of sight lines must all be considered as all such elements may have a diminutive effect on your property value, especially if it has a residential element.
Development Potential – What is the potential net loss from what could have been developed on your land if the infrastructure project had not gone ahead? For example, did the project prevent the erection of a wind turbine(s), solar array, housing scheme or other development on your land?
Disturbance – What are the costs to your business for relocation or closure if necessary?
Crop or Stock Loss – How much and what unit value per head or tonnage lost?
While the number of aspects to consider may seem somewhat overwhelming, being aware of the particular legislative backdrop applicable to the type of scheme you face and careful consideration of your rights to compensation and the appropriate valuation methodology can help to ameliorate the situation, at least financially.
For more information and advice, please contact Lesley Mearns in our Land and Rural Business team on 01334 659735 or by email at email@example.com or contact a member of the Land & Rural Business Team.