Opposition from the legal profession is continuing to build to the government’s plans to extend the remit of Land Registry and investigate part-privatisation.
A consultation on giving the agency wider powers, including taking over the local land charges function from local authorities, closed yesterday.
The Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO) said the change would cause costs and search times to rise. James Sherwood-Rogers, chairman, described centralisation as ‘adding another layer in the process’.
The Land Registry will still require local authorities to input data, but they will no longer be remunerated for doing this. As a result they will cut staff and so the timeliness of data being input to the register is likely to suffer, he said.
A second consultation, on turning the bulk of the registry into a ‘service delivery company,’ possibly with private shareholding, closes on 20 March. In a briefing to parliament, the Law Society said that it is ‘keen to ensure that as part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure a change of status does not undermine confidence in the register’.
Law firm marketing network High Street Lawyer has set up a campaign to oppose the changes, with a website www.savethelandregistry.co.uk linking to an e-petition.
A former chief land registrar, John Manthorpe, has added his voice to concerns. In a response to the consultation he attacks the plan to split the office of the chief land registrar from the service function, which he says the consultation document ‘erroneously describes as “administrative”’.
‘To decapitate the Land Registry in the way proposed is to misunderstand the clear lines of authority that flow from the chief land registrar through to his or her staff and the upward lines of reference that ensure the constant development of land registration practice.
‘It does seem that those advising the [government] have not grasped the sheer scale and importance of the statutory functions of the registry.’
He added: ‘Confidence in land and property as the ultimate source of wealth and welfare in society depends on a land registration system administered with integrity, commercial neutrality and free from any conflict of interest.
‘This is not an activity that can be done by a private company.’
The Law Society is expected to respond next week. Jonathan Smithers (pictured), chair of the conveyancing and land law committee, said he did not believe that a proper case had been made for a decision to change Land Registry’s status.
‘Land registration is not just an administrative function, it is the guarantee that you own something. It is of enormous concern to the fabric of society.’