Registers page: Registers of Scotland has joined with other interested bodies to create a forum to consider best practice in all plans matters relating to registration of titles

The Land Registration etc (Scotland) Bill was introduced into Parliament on 1 December 2011. In advance of the introduction of the Bill, Registers of Scotland (RoS) has been reviewing existing practices in a number of areas. One such area concerns the map on which the Land Register is based, where we have recently joined with the Law Society of Scotland, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Ordnance Survey (OS) to establish a collaborative mapping forum to ensure mapping of properties is joined up, as effective as possible, meets legal requirements, takes advantage of new technologies, and supports the needs of our customers.

Over the past 30 years, some 1.4 million properties have been mapped and registered in the Land Register. That comprises 55% of all properties in Scotland, though only 21% of our land mass. The Bill contains provisions such as the introduction of new transaction types that will trigger first registration, that will speed up the eventual completion of the Land Register and so provide Scotland with a comprehensive, map-based register of title to land.

The Bill’s approach to mapping is light touch and enabling. It provides an overarching framework but leaves the detail to the professional and public bodies involved in mapping. There will be a statutory map, known as the Cadastral Map, which will show the registered extent of individual properties and which, in essence, is a continuation of our current administrative index map. The Bill provides that land must be mapped before being registered, and allows Scottish Ministers to incorporate the RoS deed plan criteria into subordinate legislation made under the Bill. The content of future deed plan criteria is a matter that is being considered by the mapping forum.

Ordnance Maps

Since its inception, the Land Register has used the Ordnance Map as the base map on which to show the registered extent of properties. This map must have a “no gaps, no overlaps” approach. Although the Ordnance Map is primarily a topographical map, it is by far the most accurate complete map of Scotland and has proved to be suitable for land registration. The Bill provisions offer the flexibility to use the Ordnance Map or an alternative system of mapping as the Land Register base map, or a combination of both. In practice, it is likely that the Ordnance Map will continue to provide the base map for the foreseeable future (except for the seabed, to which the Ordnance Map does not extend). Ensuring the Ordnance Map can be used in the most effective manner will be one of the areas the mapping forum is considering.

Challenges of scale

Solicitors and surveyors will be familiar with the twin challenges of currency and scale that must be considered when using the Ordnance Map. The large scale maps that OS supply for registration come in three different scales: 1:1250 scale for urban areas, 1:2500 scale for rural areas or 1:10,000 scale for what are described as “mountain and moorland” areas. The urban and rural scales are generally considered to be sufficient for the purpose of registering rights in land and the accurate depiction of boundaries. In Scotland, over 95% of addressable properties fall within the ambit of the urban and rural mapping scales.

The mountain and moorland scale presents more challenges, where the effect of map generalisation may distort features and feature relationships, impacting upon its suitability for registration purposes. For example, roads will generally not be to scale, simply in order that they can be identified on such a map.

We have developed a range of techniques to supplement the Ordnance Map to avoid losing the detail provided from higher-accuracy survey effort. These include the use of textual notes to complement the plan (such as indicating a boundary is the mid-point of a wall, or narrating the length and position of a boundary), increasing the scale of the title plan mapping from the base OS scale, using supplementary plans such as a copy of a deed plan, and using enlargements, of part of a title plan to depict boundaries that are difficult to identify on the base scale of the Ordnance Map. In some cases, we will go beyond our minimum legal requirement and specify the geo-spatial co-ordinates denoting boundary points.

Continuous updating

OS also recognises the demands of customers for greater clarity of data. Graham Little, Head of Production at Ordnance Survey, explains: “OS is embarking upon a geo-spatial data improvement programme in the mountain and moorland areas that have traditionally been mapped at 1:10,000 scale. This will begin in 2012 and will, over time, remove much of the feature generalisation inherited from 1:10,000 scale paper mapping.

“The programme will also improve the representation of pockets of development, for example settlements and certain agricultural areas, currently maintained to a mountain and moorland specification, enriching it to be more consistent with that of the wider rural specification.”

The Land Register map base is not static. It is continuously being updated in response to OS map updates to ensure it remains current. Graham Little notes: “OS’s currency target is to collect all major change – particularly in the built environment – within six months of on-the-ground completion. We have a geographically dispersed workforce of 30 surveyors in Scotland who are tasked with collecting these changes. To achieve this, we gather knowledge about where and when change is occurring (from local authorities and a variety of other sources including RoS), and then track development progress.

“In addition to the collection of major change, minor or more scattered change is collected on a cyclical basis, currently every five years. In a typical year, we will collect all minor change in an area of around 17,000 square kilometres (20%) of Scotland. Modern satellite-enabled positioning technology and airborne digital sensors are used to survey change to a high degree of positional accuracy.”

In addition to the proactive updating of the Ordnance Map by OS, RoS may also commission OS to re-survey and update an area before the land is finally registered on the Land Register. Typically, this happens where the Ordnance Map is insufficiently detailed to allow a property to be depicted accurately, or where a solicitor has raised concerns as to the currency (and so suitability) of the Ordnance Map. Where OS improves the map in relation to any given property, RoS has the power to update the mapping on the Land Register in consequence of the updated Ordnance Map (provided any errors in the original maps did not exceed the tolerances of the scale they were drawn on). This allows for improvements in the Ordnance Map to be reflected on the map base of the Land Register.

None of the issues outlined above have prevented the growth of the Land Register. In the overwhelming majority of property transactions, the Ordnance Map works well as the map base for land registration. The mapping forum seeks to ensure that best practice can continue to develop and so support the completion of the Land Register.

Mapping forum

Neil Freshwater, Policy and Practice Manager for RICS Scotland, commented: “Over the past few years, RICS Scotland has raised concerns over the scale – and therefore precision – of maps used in the Land Register. Whilst it is adequate for most urban transactions, it can present issues where a greater level of detail is needed to determine a boundary, particularly in rural areas where maps are more generalised.

“It’s not a recent problem and we appreciate that wholesale change of map recording is not realistic. However, mapping technology used by geomatics chartered surveyors today has moved on a lot since the Land Register’s creation in 1979, enabling maps to be plotted accurately to within a few centimetres.

“The Land Registration etc (Scotland) Bill may present some opportunity for improvements, but what our discussions have led to is the creation of a liaison group between RICS, RoS, the Law Society of Scotland and Ordnance Survey. This group will develop a greater understanding amongst practitioners involved in the various stages of property transactions. So far, it has proved beneficial in gaining a greater understanding with RoS officials about the processes and limitations of recording title maps in the Land Register. We hope to use the group to provide more formal cross-profession guidance for practitioners.”

John Scott, secretary to the Conveyancing Committee of the Law Society of Scotland, added: “The Society welcomes the opportunity to be involved in this significant discussion about the future of mapping in the Land Register and the formulation of statutory deed plan criteria. It is important for owners to have confidence that the boundaries of their property are accurately represented in the Land Register. The geo-spatial data improvement programme and the proactive updating of the Ordnance Map by OS are measures which should help to ensure this. It would also make sense for the Registers to have the flexibility to use other mapping systems to supplement the Ordnance Map where appropriate.”

John King, Registration Director, RoS concluded: “Property owners can be assured that the mapping of properties on the Land Register has always been done to a high standard, accurately reflecting the extent of what they own. The mapping forum is a welcome development in ensuring that the main parties involved in the preparation of plans, and the subsequent depiction of those plans on the Land Register map, can work collaboratively to ensure the continued provision of a robust and accurate map-based Land Register.”

The Author
Further information on the mapping forum, along with a list of contacts, can be found on our website (www.ros.gov.uk).
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