A huge challenge: voluntary registration of local authority land

The Land Registry is actively working with the public sector to help achieve its aim of comprehensive registration of all freehold land by 2030.

Achieving comprehensive registration of all freehold land in England and Wales by 2030 is a key target for the government and is a core component of the Land Registry’s current business strategy. The term ‘comprehensive registration’ is being used, rather than ‘total registration’, because the Land Registry accepts that there will always be some areas of land that will never be registered. The government is keen to see all land registered, as it makes it easier to trace its ownership.

The Land Registry recently announced that it has now achieved 86% registration of land in England and Wales by area. Each 1% increase equates to over 150,000 hectares of land, or 370,000 acres, which demonstrates the scale of the Land Registry’s ambition.

Land that has not yet been registered at the Land Registry needs to be registered for the first time when it is bought, mortgaged or inherited, which means that all unregistered land that is owned by individuals should become registered within a generation. However, the emphasis is now on landowners with large property holdings, such as government departments, local authorities, educational institutions, companies and other landowners who tend to hold on to their land on a long-term basis.

Working with the public sector

The Land Registry recently wrote a blog article on its website setting out its strategy for dealing with land owned by the public sector. The Land Registry has a Head of Public Sector Strategy whose role is to ensure the registration of the land and property owned by the 388 public bodies, 375 local authorities and 11,000 local councils (town, parish, community neighbourhood and village) in England and Wales by the end of 2025.

The Land Registry has said that many local authorities believe they have already registered all their freehold land assets but, without exception, in comparing their data with the Land Registry’s own data, it has been able to identify some unregistered land of which the local authorities were not aware.

The Government has recently published a list of unregistered public sector land using data from HM Land Registry and the Office of Government Property. This list is not definitive but is intended to make the data open and transparent. The Land Registry is prioritising its activities with those authorities who have both the greatest housing need and the highest percentage of unregistered land.

Help from the Land Registry

The Land Registry states that it can help the public sector to register its land by:

  • helping to analyse data to understand what’s left to register. In some cases it can offer practical help, such as deed retrieval and lodgement
  • assigning a project manager to work with each public sector organisation who will be a single point of contact throughout the process, and
  • updating ownership details in existing registration data

It also states that it can help with costs by working on a project basis, rather than charging to register each piece of land individually. It says that, for example, most local authorities which have fewer than 90 parcels of unregistered land do not spend more than £680 registering their assets.

A huge challenge

The Land Registry acknowledges that the journey towards comprehensive registration by 2030 is a huge challenge. Currently, one of the biggest challenges faced by its Public Sector Engagement Team is finding the right people to talk to in local authorities so it can discuss ways in which it can help. Anyone working for a public sector body in England and Wales looking to register their land assets is invited to contact the Land Registry.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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