When an acquiring authority utilises compulsory acquisition powers, there is always a balance to be struck between supporting a development proposal for which it is considered there is a compelling public interest to compulsorily acquire land, with the private rights of those parties whose interests are affected by the proposed Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO). COVID-19 has only heightened this sensitivity on both sides, with lockdown and social distancing being seen as a hindrance to the consultation process when making or implementing a CPO.
The Government has today published a range of updated planning guidance. This includes guidance related to the CPO Process. Consistent with the “business as usual” message in the Chief Planner’s 23 March newsletter, the Government “wants to see CPOs to continue to be progressed.” This statement in itself is probably the most helpful element to acquiring authorities contemplating whether to progress a CPO in the context of the anticipated backlash by those affected, where COVID-19 restrictions and perceived prejudice are likely to feature heavily in objections and opposition to the CPO process.
The remainder of the specific guidance contains information which is consistent with how any reasonable and sensitive acquiring authority should conduct the process:
- Consider providing extended timescales for people to respond;
- Act responsibly towards business and residential claimants, particularly when vesting land and dealing with compensation;
- No undue evictions, in line with the Government’s general policy on evictions during this period;
- Comply with timescales for requests for Advance Payments, recognising the economic strain businesses and individuals are under.
Unfortunately, the guidance does not mirror the statements made in relation to publicity for planning applications where temporary legislation deals with current procedural difficulties, such as hard copy documents being made available for inspection, notices being published in local newspapers and recognising the increased use of social media to publicise planning applications. These very same issues apply to the CPO procedural process. The guidance recognises there are current difficulties with procedural requirements, but offers no solution or guidance on how an acquiring authority can continue to comply with the required processes, other than to act “pragmatically”. This potentially exposes CPOs to greater opposition on procedural irregularities than has previously been the case.