John King: Cadastral map will, in time, show who owns Scotland

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Land registration remains a hot topic, and time ticks away as we approach the deadline for 100 per cent of Scotland’s land mass to be registered on the ‘cadastral map’.

Latest figures from Registers of Scotland, who maintain the land register, indicate 66 per cent of all potential property titles are registered, leaving around 800,000 titles still to enter the new register before it is complete. Scottish Ministers have set a target of 2024; an irrefutable substantial task ahead for all.

The cadastral map itself is relatively new; launched as part of the changes to land registration enacted in 2012. Designed to provide clarity on who owns Scotland, it will (when complete) be possible to stick a pin into any part of it and see who owns the land and the actual extent of their ownership.

However, spare a thought for the solicitor preparing to sell a property not yet registered, for the process of getting a property on to the cadastral map can be challenging. On top of the usual title examination required as part of the property transaction, the solicitor needs to ensure historic titles meet the standards required to enable the property to be identified and plotted on to the new cadastral map. This is not a given. Scotland was a pioneer when the Registration Act 1617 was created, arguably, the world’s first public property register, the Register of Sasines, but the ways in which deeds described property for this text register are often at odds with accurately identifying boundaries on a modern digital map.

Additionally, the 2012 Act introduced many other conditions around what has to be mapped and how land and property rights should be represented on the map. There is much for a solicitor to consider and comply with; failure to do so will prevent the property from being mapped and registered, without which the purchaser cannot secure title.

The arrival of the cadastral map has subsequently led to the introduction of new plans reports. These are now a standard part of pre-sale checks that the seller’s solicitor will instruct for those properties not yet on the land register, providing a means to bridge the differing legal requirements around property descriptions in title deeds with those of the cadastral map. This ultimately helps to resolve any ambiguity surrounding property law terms and descriptions, ensuring they meet the new requirements for entry.

The plans report not only lets the seller know if the description in the prior titles is sufficient but will also identify whether the seller has title to all land being sold - sometimes the seller will own more, sometimes less - and will check neighbouring registered titles to ensure they do not infringe on the seller’s title.

In the majority of cases a plans report will indicate all is satisfactory and if there are issues, there is often a straightforward remedy. In most cases it simply involves the preparation of a new deed plan to clarify the extent of the land, although occasionally, the report might highlight a more serious title conflict or problem.

The skills and technology required to enable a plans report are considerable, which perhaps explains why there are few providers in the marketplace. Millar & Bryce combines advanced geographic information software (GIS) with our wealth of experience and skills to replicate title data from deeds onto the current version of the Ordnance Survey map.

As well as requiring access to up-to-date ordnance survey data which mirrors that which the cadastral map is based upon, we also rely on a multi-skilled team that has the ability to interpret deeds and relate often old and vague descriptions to the cadastral map. It’s imperative this team has as an understanding of the many legislative requirements that impact on this area, and increasingly we also find that when the report highlights a problem, clients are now looking for assistance in identifying options for resolution.

Plans reports ensure any potential issues are identified early. This avoids triggering a rejection when an incorrect plan or description is submitted as part of an application for registration. So, if the invoice from your solicitor includes the cost of a plans report, you can rest assured this is money well spent.

If you want to check if your home is registered or view the entry for it on the cadastral map see scotlis.ros.gov.uk

John King is principal consultant, Millar & Bryce