The Future of Land Registration in the UK
The Future of Land Registration in the UK
With the prospect of privatising the Land Registry for England and Wales, GW turned to someone with experience of a cadastral system. Julia Stolle is a chartered surveyor from Germany with experience of both systems. So does accuracy trounce our old friend general boundaries?
Land administration and registration provides security for property rights and tenure and is an important element in a country’s development, eventually contributing to economic growth and social stability. It is based on a complex legal framework, impartiality and has to remain completely independent from any possible commercial interests.
Land administration can be implemented in many different ways. In the UK the Land Registry (LR) records property rights, land transfers and first registration. LR uses Ordnance Survey mapping for the demarcation of the land. We are all more than familiar with the LR title plans that show the extent of a piece of land edged in red. The LR title plans are subject to the “General Boundary Rules” and the general boundaries shown on the Title plans may or may not coincide with the legal boundaries. A conveyancing solicitor might recommend to a potential buyer to check the general boundaries, shown on the title plan, against the existing physical features on the ground.
The process of buying a property can be very stressful and proper checking of the physical boundaries of a property against the registered extent is probably the last thing the potential buyer will do. The lack of accurate boundary demarcation is often the cause of boundary disputes between neighbours. However, this problem does not lie with the Land Registry but with the principal of the general boundary system. So how is it done in other countries?
Land Registration in Germany
Most European countries use a cadastral system instead of a general boundary system. The origin of a cadastre is based on the idea of taxation on land ownership (from the Latin word “capitastrum”).
In Germany, the extent of a piece of land or property is shown on a cadastral map. The cadastral map shows, what is often called “the invisible line”, the legal or true boundary. Ordnance Survey maps are topographic maps, showing physical features on the ground.
At first glance a cadastral map looks similar to an LR title plan. However, we can identify small dots on the plan at each bend or kink in the boundary line. Those points can be determined by coordinates and angle & distance measurements between the points. If one point goes missing, the system enables the reconstruction of this point by using the surrounding boundary markers. In Germany land registration is regulated at state level with each state having slightly different rules and regulations. However, the main idea is the same.
Ideally, the dots will be marked by permanent markers in the ground – the so called “Grenzstein”. The old permanent markers will often be buried in the ground and the surveyor will need a spade to find them. The old system sometimes used additional underground demarcation, often in the form of a pipe or bottle, placed underneath the marker. Should the actual boundary stone be lost, the pipe or bottle, buried further in the ground, might still exist.
The cadastral map is produced and maintained by a public body, called “Katasteramt”. The actual registration of change of ownership of a property is recorded within the “Grundbuch”, which might best translate as the “property book”. The “Grundbuch” is not part of the “Katasteramt” but is under the control of another public body, the so called “Grundbuchamt”. The process of entry or record of transfer within the “Grundbuch” is handled by a specialised lawyer, similar to a conveyancing solicitor in the UK. The “Katasteramt” and the “Grundbuchamt” work closely together and will update each other’s records on a regular basis.
The chartered surveyor in Germany acts, when instructed by a public body, as a civil servant who is bound by the regulations set out within the county land administration law. The German chartered surveyor can also be instructed by a private landowner, for example to locate the boundary markers or to undertake a land partition. However, the surveyor will have to log any changes to the cadastral map with the public body and will have to complete the work under strict rules and guidelines set out by the public body. The chartered surveyor does to a certain degree therefore, implements the land registration law.
In many ways, this is similar to the LR requirements for transfer, first registration or boundary agreement plans. However, the German system is far more rigorous and is probably one of the most accurate and well organised in Europe. As the Germans like to be organised, this does not really come as a surprise.
There is no right or wrong in one system or the other and what works in one country might not work in another. The concept of general boundaries would probably be inconceivable for most Germans and the German cadastral system would be regarded as too much paperwork and hassle for the British.
However, if we in Britain want to keep up with the challenges that land management and the property market hold in the future, we will have to invest in maintaining and improving the system we have in the UK. The Government, the Land Registry, the Ordnance Survey and the surveyor will play a crucial part in forming the future of land administration in the UK.
The current plans by the Government to privatise the Land Registry will certainly not help in forming a progressive system and might even threaten the fundamental basis on which the land registration system is founded – impartiality and freedom of any possible conflict of interest.