Government plans to change the ground rules for local land searches are set to pose a risk to 430,000 listed buildings, says the Council of Property Search Organisations (COPSO). Currently, solicitors acting for purchasers in a property sale will check with the local council if there are any restrictions or charges on the property. This can take between one and forty days, with fees varying between £6 and £96, and routinely searches go back to 1926. The government is proposing that the Land Registry takes over this role from local councils, however their records only go back to 1999. COPSO warn that the 430,000 buildings listed before 1999 would not show up on searches for buyers of those properties, nor would other possible restrictions such as the establishment of conservation areas, tree preservation orders, noise abatement orders or liability for the costly maintenance of private sewers. Such restrictions affect many millions of properties.
One potential consequence of this proposal is that an unwitting buyer might make an unauthorised alteration to a listed building, which is not merely a civil but a criminal offense. This would include any works of demolition or extension as well as alterations, both internal and external, that go beyond what could be described as repairs.
The Land Registry, which holds the titles to most of the land in England and Wales, believes that the proposed move would make the process of house buying easier and more efficient, by making public data more easily accessible. Last month the government began a consultation on whether to sell off or part-privatise the Land Registry, which raises £98 million a year for the Treasury.