Planning and Architecture

Compulsory Purchase Reform

July 9, 2024 by No Comments | Category Compulsory Purchase Order, Consultation, Planning, Stakeholder Engagement

Compulsory purchase in Scotland is widely regarded as being in need of reform. As part of our wider planning reforms, the Scottish Government has committed to improve and modernise the system in order to help support the delivery of development, infrastructure and regeneration projects that are in the public interest. In this blog, we explain the background to, the objectives of and the timescales for the Scottish Government’s compulsory purchase reform programme.

What is compulsory purchase and how can it support positive change?
Compulsory purchase powers enable certain organisations to acquire land and property without the consent of their owner. Of course, taking an individual’s or a business’s property is a significant step which interferes with the rights of those affected. The use of compulsory purchase powers therefore requires careful consideration and clear justification to demonstrate that there is a strong enough case in the public interest.

But used properly, compulsory purchase can support the delivery of a wide range of projects – both large and small – that would not otherwise come forward. This can range from bringing empty properties back into use through to the delivery of major infrastructure and town centre redevelopment schemes.

In doing so, compulsory purchase can help promote social, economic and environmental transformation. That is why Scottish Government policy – set out in Circular 6/2011  – encourages a positive and proactive approach to the use of compulsory purchase.

Our compulsory purchase homepage contains a range of guidance and advice for acquiring authorities (organisations with compulsory purchase powers), as well as owners and occupiers affected by compulsory purchase.

Why is compulsory purchase reform needed?
By helping to unlock projects in the public interest, the use of compulsory purchase can contribute to many of the Scottish Government’s wider plans, policies, and strategies – such as the National Planning Framework 4, the National Transport Strategy and the Infrastructure Investment Plan. It can thereby help contribute to our National Outcomes.

If it is to play this role, however, Scotland needs a system that is fit for purpose. However, the underpinning legislation governing the use of compulsory purchase is widely regarded as in need of reform. The Scottish Law Commission carried out a review of compulsory purchase between 2014 and 2016. The Commission’s 2014 Discussion Paper suggested that “the age and complexity of the primary legislation may well discourage its use by those who would otherwise wish to initiate the process. Its 2016 Report concluded that: “the legislation is old, difficult to understand and does not work effectively in a modern context” – and that those who the Commission consulted with “took the view that the system, both procedurally and in relation to the award of compensation, does not operate fairly”.

Accordingly, the Scottish Government has committed to reform and modernise compulsory purchase in Scotland. This a substantial undertaking: the project will be delivered over several years and involve engagement with a variety of stakeholders.

We anticipate carrying out a public consultation on proposals for reform in 2025. Substantive reforms would need to be taken forward through a Compulsory Purchase Bill.

What are the aims of the compulsory purchase reform programme?
The Scottish Government wants CPO to fulfil its potential as a tool for delivering projects in the public interest – one that encourages authorities to make positive and proactive use of their powers in appropriate circumstances, including in partnership with third parties.

The overall objective of the reform programme is to make the compulsory purchase system simpler, more streamlined and fairer for all parties. In doing so, our aim is to move towards a system that is:

• Equitable: Compensates claimants fairly and timeously.
• Effective: Supports efficient decision-making, whilst ensuring procedural fairness, openness, and transparency.
• Easy to understand: Provides all parties with certainty and clarity about how the process works and their rights, roles and responsibilities within it.

Practitioner Advisory Group and Stakeholder Engagement
Compulsory purchase is a specialist area which brings together several technical disciplines, including lawyers, surveyors and planners. As the Law Commission’s review highlighted, the legislation governing compulsory purchase is fragmented and complex. There is also extensive case law dating back to the 19th Century.

In this context, being able to draw on the practical knowledge and insights of those with first-hand experience of working with compulsory purchase procedures and compensation will be highly beneficial. That is why in March 2024 we established a Practitioner Advisory Group (PAG) to help support the reform process. The PAG is intended to act as a sounding board for emerging reform proposals and as a source of practical expertise and information on compulsory purchase. In doing so it will support the development of a reform package that is robust and evidence based. More information about the PAG, its membership and terms of reference – as well as meeting minutes – can be found here.

The Advisory Group is of course only one of the ways in which Scottish Government will be engaging with those with an interest in compulsory purchase reform. Ahead of publishing a public consultation in 2025, we will talk to a wide range of stakeholders and are keen to hear from those with insights on the current system and how it might be improved. If you would like to get in touch, please contact 

Building blocks for reform
Given the scale of the task, the reform programme is structured around a series of topic areas that can act as ‘building blocks’ for the work. The building blocks broadly follow the key steps of the compulsory purchase process. They are intended to provide the basis for unpacking and exploring topics in detail, and for working towards a robust set of proposals that will be consulted on in 2025.The five building blocks of CPO reform. Enabling powers, Early engagement, confirmation procedures, taking possession and title, compensation