Contractual Controls on land: consultation

Closes 20 Mar 2024

Consultation objectives and strategic rationale

This Government is committed to improving the transparency of who owns and controls land in England and Wales. Anyone should, if they wish to, be able to find out not just who owns land, but who controls it.   People seeking to buy it also need to know who they are buying it from and there needs to be a way to identify people who have an interest in it. 

Contractual controls that are used to control land short of outright ownership are a common feature of our land market and have a valuable purpose. They allow developers to secure land intended for development whilst they acquire the necessary permissions needed, reducing the risk of investing in land out right that may not be feasible to develop. These arrangements are extensively used by the major developers, sometimes acting as a blocker to communities and SMEs from securing land for development.   

Currently there is no legal requirement to provide information on these agreements, meaning it is impossible to gain a complete picture of matters affecting land which can act as a drag on development. We are now seeking to address this. The Government’s ambition is that information on certain contractual control agreements is freely accessible and available. This will allow communities to find out more about where land is being brought forward for development, support developers to identify sites, and others to understand where and how land is under control. 

The Government has recently taken powers through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act (LURA 2023) to gather and publish information on contractual control agreements and now this consultation seeks views on the time, cost, and market implications of collecting and publishing information on contractual controls, as well as draft regulations.  

Consultation 

Part 11 of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act contains powers to collect and publish information about contractual control agreements with the intention of providing greater transparency on contractual control agreements in England and Wales. When we refer to contractual controls, we are referring to agreements, such as option agreements, that are used to control land short of outright ownership.   

The regulations which the Government plans to deliver under the Act seek to create a dataset comprising the ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘who’ and ‘when’ of contractual control agreements that will promote transparency by providing a reliable, and accessible source of information for communities, developers, and other stakeholders. 

This consultation seeks views on the Government’s plans to create a more transparent picture of contractual controls on land through a freely accessible dataset. Following the 2020 Call for Evidence, this consultation clarifies our rationale for this measure and seeks the views of individuals’, organisations and business on the time, cost, and market impact implications of collecting and publishing information about contractual control agreements. 

Consultation objectives and strategic rationale 

Developers and other actors will often enter into contractual control agreements (such as option agreements) which allow them to exert control over the future use and disposition of land. These contractual control agreements may be protected on land titles but are not currently recorded in an easily accessible or transparent way. What is more, while land and property transactions for registered land must be recorded at HM Land Registry, there is no legal requirement to record data on contractual control agreements. It is therefore impossible to gain a complete picture of where and how land is under control, short of outright ownership. 

We propose to collect and publish a large dataset on contractual control agreement data, allowing  Property Technology (Prop Tech) companies (including third sector open data organisations, interest groups and researchers) to create user-friendly tools and applications that may reduce the time and cost of site identification and assessment by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) and developers, and help communities and local authorities understand the likely path of development in their area. 

The potential benefits of knowing what is being developed in the local area will differ between actors in the market. From our current analysis of likely impacts, we anticipate that the introduction of more transparent measures could have benefits across the market and for consumers which include: 

The land market 

  1. Developers (including SMEs) who use contractual controls to secure pipelines of land to develop will have to provide information on the contractual controls they use. This will reveal how much land is covered by such agreements, in which locations, and for how long. Developers will be able to more easily identify land that is available, and the measures may facilitate more land being brought forward by greater transparency of which land is currently the subject of a contractual control agreement.  

  1. Landowners who enter into agreements with property developers or land promoters will have information on contractual control agreements which have been agreed over other land in their area. 

Actors in the wider land market 

  1. Land promoters often use contractual controls to secure land whilst they undertake the necessary technical, planning and design work needed to secure planning permission for development. A transparent view on available land and current contractual control information may aid strategic development and purchasing.  

  1. Software companies (e.g. Property Technology companies) are increasingly using Government data to provide services in the sector such as geospatial mapping of land.  Publishing data on contractual controls will provide a trusted information source for data on contractual controls which will allow them to create tools and applications that may reduce the time and cost of site identification and assessment by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) and developers. Open data organisations, interest groups and researchers may also produce online tools using the data.  

Communities and public bodies 

  1. Local authorities use data on availability of land to identify potential sites for development and allocate them in their local plan. The current opacity of available land can lead to sites being allocated that may be undeliverable in the timescales presented in local plans. Access to data about contractual controls over land may help inform targets on future availability of land that can be developed for residential purposes. This could be used to help local government plan for development. For example, it could make it easier for local planning authorities to understand who controls land, how it is under control and if it is likely to come forward for development, all of which could support the development of local plans.   

  1. Communities will benefit from being able to better understand likely developments coming forward through the planning process through more easily accessible data. When provided with the option to view data on the contractual controls in their area, it will give them an opportunity to shape proposals at an earlier stage with better understanding of the likely path of development in their area.  

  1. Central government, academia and researchers use data related to ownership, control and future development to identify trends and create an evidence base for future policy proposals and shape policy direction in this area.