The Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, and the Keeper of the Registers, highlight the availability to solicitors and their clients of voluntary registration

I can remember the introduction of the Land Register when in practice as a young solicitor! The Scottish Government is keen to see the levers of government used in these times of economic difficulty to help generate more business for businesses.

It appears to me that one such area is that the Keeper will accept voluntary registrations in most cases, and solicitors in private practice especially can encourage clients to bring forward voluntary registrations, which would generate more legal work, as well as in some cases help to identify titles more clearly.

A robust and effective system of land registration is essential for providing the right environment in which Scotland’s economic wellbeing can be maintained and grown. A register of title brings certainty of ownership, and that ensures that parties who wish to transact with land can do so with the confidence that stems from a register that has a state-backed guarantee.

On 7 September 2011, this administration’s new Programme for Government was launched, introducing an ambitious programme of 16 bills for this parliamentary year. This includes the Land Registration (Scotland) Bill, for which I am the lead Minister.

The current land registration system derives from the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 1979, and although in the main land registration has operated effectively, it is widely acknowledged that the law is now in need of reform. The aim of the Bill is to modernise the process of registering land and property rights to make it clearer, more certain, more efficient, and fit for the 21st century.

A key component of this is to provide the legal basis for the eventual completion of the Land Register, by increasing the triggers for the first registration of property and providing powers in relation to voluntary registrations and Keeper-induced registrations. This Government is committed to a Scotland that welcomes and supports investors. Every step towards completing the Land Register is a firmer step in the right direction.

The proposals in the Bill will accelerate the process of land registration, and so increase the number of titles backed by state guarantee. However, solicitors and their clients who wish to take advantage of the benefits of land registration are not solely dependent on enactment of the new Land Registration Bill. Solicitors will be familiar with the provisions in the 1979 Act, which permits interested parties to request registration in the absence of a trigger event. Parties can ask the Keeper to consider a voluntary request for registration. The Keeper and I are both keen to emphasise the benefits that land registration can bring and to encourage solicitors to discuss with their clients the advantages of a registered title.

Over the coming months, the Keeper will be engaging with the profession, and with the representatives of key groups, whose members’ business is related to land ownership. The focus of these discussions will be to highlight the benefits of voluntary registration. I urge solicitors to take advantage of that dialogue, and to consider actively how voluntary registration can enable their clients to take full advantage of their property portfolio.

 


Open –door policy

Land registration brings economic and legal benefits, and Registers of Scotland is a key part of the infrastructure that supports the Scottish economy, underpinning a property market worth over £20 billion. To maximise the benefits of land registration, I am keen to promote voluntary registration and, whenever possible, I want to encourage an open-door policy to requests for voluntary registration.

Although the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 1979 gives me absolute discretion to refuse or accept applications for voluntary registration, in practice I reject very few. For instance, I rejected only 70 out of over 1,000 applications for voluntary registration received in 2010-11. A refusal will generally be for one of two reasons: either there is an actual or potential boundary dispute, or the cost of registration is not covered by the registration fee and there is no other compelling reason to agree the request.

I welcome enquiries from solicitors interested in voluntary registration. Registration can provide your client with an asset register of their properties, bringing clarity and certainty to what is owned; it can uncover and resolve any title issues in advance of a subsequent sale; it can make the property more readily marketable, particularly where outside investors are involved; and it can reduce the costs of future conveyancing.

I recognise that there can, on occasion, be issues in readying a set of titles for voluntary registration. My Title Investigation Team can assist in this regard. They have a proven record of accomplishment in working with public and private sector organisations to identify and resolve title extent issues in readiness for registration.

RoS will continue to engage in dialogue with solicitors, and also those public and private bodies who have extensive land holdings, to discuss options for voluntary registration. If you are invited to attend one of these events, please do come along. We have already worked closely with a number of organisations with very positive results from their voluntary registration.

 

CASE STUDY 1

Old Course Hotel, St Andrews

In 2008, RoS completed the voluntary registration of the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews, Fife. Not just of interest to golfers, this application provided certainty of boundaries for one of Scotland’s most famous hotels, situated on the edge of one of our most historic towns.

Gordon Aitken, of Maclay Murray & Spens, was the solicitor representing the owners of the Old Course Hotel. He said the reason that they went down the voluntary registration route was “to achieve a better level of certainty, clarity, and of course indemnity”.

Case Study 2

Grangemouth Oil Refinery

Deborah Lovell, a partner in Anderson Strathern LLP’s Commercial Real Estate team, commented on their voluntary registration of Grangemouth Refinery.

“The voluntary registration process was used recently on behalf of our client, INEOS, for their landholding comprising their oil refinery and petrochemicals facility at Grangemouth and terminal at Finnart, all held on the historic General Register of Sasines. The registration of the land was key to a number of strategic deals involving transfers of the landholding, the reorganisation of the client’s funding arrangements, and the involvement of a new foreign investor. The benefit of the voluntary registration for our clients included speed and certainty for all parties, which was of major assistance in enabling the parties to achieve their goals.”

Case Study 3

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) Subway, Glasgow

SPT have been working with RoS for a number of years to voluntarily register their land and property that comprises the subway system in Glasgow. They sought voluntary registration, as they were persuaded by the benefits of “greater clarity and certainty, which makes for a better deed”. SPT are also seeking to consolidate their titles to enable appropriate funding to be put in place for upgrading the Glasgow underground network for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, and voluntary registration will help them to do this.

The Author
Fergus Ewing MSP, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism   Sheenagh Adams, Keeper of the Registers of Scotland  If you would like to discuss voluntary registration or the services the Title Investigation Team can provide, please contact Fiona Martin (Fiona.Martin@ros.gov.uk or call 0131 528 3887).
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