Bringing the land register up to date is complex affair

Leading the drive to take the land registry online are Charles Keegan, left, and Karen Alexander, pictured at Registers of Scotland, Meadowbank House, Edinburgh. Picture: Ian rutherford
Leading the drive to take the land registry online are Charles Keegan, left, and Karen Alexander, pictured at Registers of Scotland, Meadowbank House, Edinburgh. Picture: Ian rutherford
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In partnership with Registers of Scotland

Registers of Scotland (RoS) is encouraging land and property owners to register their land voluntarily in order to complete the Land Register of Scotland by 2024. With the benefits to landowners outweighing the challenges, Charles Keegan, head of land register completion at RoS, and Karen Alexander, its stakeholder engagement manager for the private sector, are optimistic about the uptake going forward.

Anna Dove (AD): How will Scotland benefit from a completed land register?

Charles Keegan (CK): A completed land register will make future land and property transactions easier, faster and cheaper and it will be a national asset for Scotland. It was one of the recommendations which came out of the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Review Group Final Report which was published in April 2014.

It’s about bringing certainty to all land and property titles and finally moving away from solicitors having to read large quantities of old deeds as all information will be available through an accessible digital map.

Karen Alexander (KA): The General Register of Sasines was the first national land register in the world, dating back to 1617. But it’s probably fair to say that Scotland is not as far ahead as other administrations now. There are a lot of other jurisdictions – places like Australia, Canada and the Netherlands – that are a lot closer to 100 per cent land registration.

Because we have something that’s robust and was fit for purpose for a long time, we haven’t moved as quickly.

AD: Is it achievable to complete the land register by 2024?

CK: It’s a huge challenge but we are confident we can do it.

The land register has been in existence since 1981 and we now have about 28 per cent of land mass registered and around 60 per cent of all potential titles.

We knew that it would take a long time – about 80 years – to get near completion the way we were doing it. That is why we are encouraging owners to voluntary register and giving a discount of 25 per cent on our registration fees.

AD: What are the routes to land registration?

CK: There are three routes to registration over the next eight years. One is normal sales which will continue to add volume through market activity. The second route is voluntary registration which is something people have always been able to do, but which we are now actively encouraging.

The third route is keeper-induced registration which is a new power introduced in the Land Registration etc (Scotland) Act 2012.

It allows RoS to register a title without an application from the owner. Initially we will be using this power to complete urban residential areas where we already have existing knowledge of information that will be contained in those titles. We will be contacting the owner after we have registered their property, moving it from one public register to another.

AD: What are the benefits of voluntary registration for landowners?

CK: There are a number of benefits to landowners. Yes, it costs you money, but you are in the control of the process defining where your boundaries lie, and what rights and burdens apply to the title. You get a good outcome.

You will have a registered title which will help in any future business transactions.

If you have a large number of titles, as many commercial organisations do, and you are not on the land register this can cause problems.

KA: There are examples from estate owners where maybe they have wanted to sell a holiday cottage to release some money into the estate and a lot of buyers are coming from outside Scotland.

There have been a few instances where the buyer has been put off because they have not got a land-registered title. The potential buyer might not be familiar with the sasines register.

For some companies it’s about asset management. People who are already in the company or on the estate have understood the assets and when they go, that experience is lost.

I have spoken to estates where they are looking to identify what they have still got left.

A lot of people with working farms want to make sure that their estate is in order for the next generation.

CK: It’s about certainty. Once you have got your legal boundaries clearly mapped, you could add other data to it. Maybe they have already digitised their property and that will ease the process for us in completing the voluntary registration.

AD: What does the voluntary registration process entail?

KA: Basically what you are doing is taking a view of what your legal title is. You are having everything mapped and the written information set in out in a logical standard order.

The first thing is to make sure you understand what you think your legal extent [property] is and what can be backed up by evidence in terms of deeds either from the estate or from the company archives.

You then get a plan drawn. There’s nothing different about voluntary registration to first registration apart from you don’t need to draw up a new deed to sell land. There’s no trigger event.

AD: Who else is involved in the process?

KA: Most people would use a lawyer although there’s nothing to stop them doing it themselves, however the legal profession have long experience in investigating title and preparing applications.

They would make sure that your plan and all your documentation marries up and then they would fill in our online registration form.

AD: What does Registers of Scotland do with the information?

KA: When it comes in here we check there’s nothing that overlaps with another registered title. If there is an error we can sort it out. The final title information is available on the publicly accessible land register.

CK: We have been very encouraged by how proactive people have been.

AD: What is Registers of Scotland doing to help landowners through the process?

CK: As I have already mentioned, we are offering a 25 per cent discount on our normal fee for voluntary registration until at least 2017. We are also doing a lot of work in terms of engaging with different sectors.

KA: We are listening to what people actually want and we have come up with a few new products and services to help.

We have a plan assistance service which helps people examine their title. We have got a plans drawing service where we know what your extent is and you just need it represented on a map that’s at the right scale.

I think people are encouraged by how much we have listened to what they have said to us in the initial stages.

We are keen to understand how the commercial sector works and the team are happy to meet anybody who wants more information and to get the ball rolling. We want to work with owners to see how the process will work best for them.

AD: What has the uptake been like for voluntary registration so far?

KA: We are expecting to see a lot more applications coming in this year. The number of people we have engaged with is in the thousands and people recognise that it is an important thing to do but it is not a time-bound thing to do. We have to make it as straightforward as we can and we have a business transformation programme that will help streamline the preparation and applications process for voluntary registrations.

CK: The evidence is that many owners are keen to voluntary register as they can see the benefits. What we have to do is effectively support them to achieve registration and complete the land register to provide a clear and accurate picture of land and property ownership across Scotland.

ALVIE AND DALRADDY ESTATES

Alvie and Dalraddy estates near Aviemore were bought by current laird Jamie Williamson’s great uncle in 1927 and 1930 respectively.

Ploughing money back into Scotland after years of running a merchant shipping business was the primary reason for buying the land which spans 13,300 acres.

Originally bought to be used for traditional country sports, the estate now farms 600 acres and has 2,000 acres of forestry as well as holiday cottages and a caravan park.

Williamson’s involvement with Registers of Scotland started last year when his aunt died, leaving question marks over pieces of land she had bought and sold for farming and housing.

“We ended up with about 40 title deeds and when she died, that immediately brought us into compulsory land registration and all the complications that went with it,” he explains.

Alvie and Dalraddy estates had been mapped in 1930 when solicitors and keepers walked the marches to establish boundary lines.

“We have got some very good, comprehensive maps but they don’t necessarily match our neighbours’ maps,” says Williamson.

“Voluntary registration of the title is very important. It’s very much easier now in the digital age to take these maps, digitise them and make sure our maps match with neighbours’ maps.”

When Alvie was bought in 1927, the family discovered that there was a school in the middle of the estate and that a predecessor had given the land to the parish council for that purpose, although it wasn’t registered on the map.

“Registering the land will be tremendously beneficial from our point of view in terms of future transactions,” says Williamson.

“The first thing is to get on the land registry and find out what maps we have got registered. Then we need to see what the neighbours have registered.

“If our maps agree, we can register the land. If they disagree with our neighbours’ maps, then we have to have a discussion as to who owns what.”

Williamson is encouraging other landowners to start the voluntary registration process: “The sooner we can get everything in a digital system, I would say, the better.

“Yes, it’s a lot of work but hopefully it will be beneficial to everyone.”

SUTHERLAND ESTATES

With more and more tourists visiting the estate, the ancestral home of the Duke of Sutherland has joined the 21st century by going through the voluntary registration process with Registers of Scotland.

“The benefits of voluntary registration for us have definitely been the clarity it has provided us,” says Alexander Sutherland, above.

“I think as the estate is modernised and now we are tourist venue with the castle, it’s important to keep up with the times.”

The General Register of Sasines made it hard to sell property in the case of estates such as Sutherland where a number of titles are held.

Jillian MacLennan, GIS consultant at Netherton GIS Mapping, has been working with Sutherland and the Registers of Scotland to input the estate’s historic maps on to an updated digital mapping system.

“Registers of Scotland have been really helpful in how we interpret these maps and how we get them on to the new system,” she explains.

“As part of the registration process we are doing it all digitally and once we have done that process we have got these maps there at the click of a button which would make any future sales a much quicker process.

“We have got these maps for any estate purpose which is just invaluable.”

With incentives on offer for landowners who register voluntarily, now is a good time to start the process.

“I would say to other landowners that if you are thinking about voluntary registration, now is a very good time to consider it,” says Sutherland.

“A completed land register will mean for the whole of Scotland that everyone will have access to one big picture and at the click of a mouse everybody can see who owns what and that will speed things up.”

This article appears in the Summer 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.