Community Right To Reclaim Land (previously PRODs)
The Community Right to Reclaim Land is a very useful legal power that anybody can use to force the sale of publicly owned empty property or abandoned land in England and Wales. It enables anybody to request that the Secretary of State (or Minister in Wales) investigate why publicly owned properties or land have been left empty, and gives power to the Secretary of State to force the sale of the property or land.
The power draws on powers from the 1980 Local Government Planning & Land Act. The power was previously known as the Public Request Ordering Disposal (PROD). The Community Right to Reclaim Land is effectively the same power, although the government has announced that further changes amendments to the legislation are proposed.
The Secretary of State can order public authorities to dispose of empty property or land. Where this happens, the land or homes are usually sold to the open market. This legal power covers a large proportion of, but not all publicly owned property in England and Wales. Property directly owned by government departments, Housing associations, and some of the assets of the Homes and Communities Agency are exempt. Empty Homes is campaigning for the scope of the legislation to be extended to cover these. Community Right to Reclaim Land does not operate in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
What does this legislation cover?
The legislation strictly only covers unused land and property owned by certain public landowners, however government has indicated that it wants to see the process used across the public sector. Our advice is that if you know that the property is publicly owned, but are are not sure whether the legislation covers it, you should make the request anyway. Even if the property is not covered by the legislation you may find that the government will follow the same process as if it were covered.
What does the act say?
The legislation was originally intended to cover all public landowners except central government departments. It listed them in Schedule 16 of the Act. However reorganisations, privatisations, and the creation of new public sector bodies means that the list of landlowners covered has become quite out of date. There are also orgnisations such as the NHS which were left out. The schedule has been updated a few times, and the following outlines the most recent list of organisations that the legislation applies to (albeit updated by us to give current names of the landowners). The government has recently announced that it will get other public owners to sign a “memorandum of understanding” to allow the process to be applied to them in the same way.
The following landowners are included (in Schedule 16 of the act)
Councils: County, District, Metropolitan, Unitary, Borough Councils, City of London, Greater London Authority
Joint authorities - Joint authorities are bodies set up to provide services across council areas often where county councils have been abolished. For example, Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority; South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Services
Joint Waste Authorities- Where councils get together to form a joint organisation to collect rubbish. Currently there are six in London, Merseyside and Manchester
The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority
Police Authorities including the Metropolitan Police
Housing action trusts – Bodies set up to deal with failing housing estates. There were seven but all have now closed. Their business is carried on by Homes and Communities Agency
The Tenants Services Authority - This is the government organisation that regulates housing associations. It is due to close in 2012. Its powers and responsibilities will be taken over by the Homes and Communities Agency. Property and land owned by housing associations are not covered by the legislation. But land and property held by the Authority itself is included.
Other land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency may be covered by the power, but the schedule to the legislation has not been updated to take account of this. In Empty Homes view land and property owned by the HCA that was previously held by The Commission for New Towns, and land and property held by development and urban development corporations is covered. Currently there are three urban development corporations in operation although all are set to close (1) Lower Thames Gateway operating in East London, (2) Thurrock Thames Gateway and (3) West Northamptonshire covering Northampton, Daventry and Towcester.
The Civil Aviation Authority
British Shipbuilders – A public corporation that owned the shipbuilding industry. Privatised in 1983, the operations of the organisation have now been wound up British shipbuilders still exists as a property holding body, but is due to be wound up during 2011.
The Coal Authority – This is the residuary body for the National Coal Board and still owns some property and abandoned mines that were not transferred to the coal operators on privatisation
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
The Environment Agency
Statutory undertakers – Bodies carrying out public functions under a statutory power. They may be public or private companies. Examples include: The Post Office, Gas Companies such as Transco & water companies
Transport for London
British Transport Police
London Development Agency
You can only request action if the property concerned is publicly owned. It may be obvious who the owner is, but in some cases you won’t know unless you check. Even properties that appear to be publicly owned may have been sold. The government has said it will publish details of all government owned land in the future, but as this has not happened yet you can ask them on case by case basis by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the address of the property and asking them to tell you whether it is publicly owned. You can also check on Land Registry
Making a request
You need to make your request in writing either by letter or email. The Secretary of State will only investigate when a member of the public has made a written request. The government have recently published their own guidance and a form that you can use when making a request . You do not have to use the form and you can write directly to the Secretary of State instead. Our advice is to use the form if the property is in England, but to write directly to the Minister if the property in Wales. The addresses for writing directly to the Minister and Secretary of State are:
Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Department for Communities and Local Government
Minister for Finance, Local Government and Public Services.
National Assembly for Wales
Cardiff CF99 1NA
T: 029 2089 8391
What happens next?
The National Planning Casework Team of the Communities and Local Government Department will carry out an initial investigation. It will contact the owner. They will find out as much as possible about the property or land and the owner’s reasons for keeping it empty. They will decide whether there are satisfactory plans in place for making proper use of the land or property, or whether an Order of Disposal should be made. In exceptional circumstances the minister may make this decision.
If disposal is decided upon, the owner will be given 42 days in which to make representations before a decision is made.
Sale is usually on the open market – by auction, tender, or private treaty.
You should be kept informed of the outcome.
Case study about empty public buildings in north London where hundreds of homes next to the North circular stood empty for 30 years. A PROD was later sucessfully used here and the homes are now in the process of being rennovated.
Today 366 homes in the area remain in public hands, and according to
figures from Transport for London 79 are empty.
Secretary of State Ruth Kelly MP has approved a PROD of publicly owned empty homes in Liverpool after a community group raised a PROD. Read their correspondence and the official press release >>>