Conveyancing Update – Local Searches and Proposed Changes to the CON 29 Form

This month we are focusing on local searches, which are one of the most important checks that a purchaser should carry out before signing a contract to buy property or land.

Local searches are usually provided by the local authority where the land or property is located. These searches form part of the standard conveyancing process and are obtained by completing a Local Land Charges search (LLC1 search) and Enquiries of a Local Authority (CON 29 search). The CON 29 form was last written about in a Journal article early last year. The parts of this form relating to drainage and water searches was to be used by most water and sewerage companies since 1 November 2013, and all providers in England will have to use the new forms and reports by spring 2014.  

The purpose of these searches is to both help a purchaser to decide on the suitability of a property and inform them of any future proposals at a local level that might be under consideration when the search is carried out. To help illustrate the importance of the information these searches can provide, we will first consider some of the history behind their creation.

The LLC Register – The Local Land Charges Register was created by the Land Charges Act 1925. Since that time a Local Land Charges Register has been maintained by every local authority in England and Wales. There has been more recent legislation in the form of the Local Land Charges Act of 1975 and the Rules of 1977, which emphasise the need for local authorities to maintain and allow public access to the Local Land Charges Register.   

The purpose of the Register is to record details of matters registered against a property that would affect successive owners. There are 12 different parts of the LLC Register covering matters such as planning permissions, financial charges, coal mining, aviation, light obstruction, listed building status and drainage matters. Clearly, whether the property being purchased has full planning permission or is potentially subject to a compulsory purchase order is a matter of great importance to a potential buyer.

Enquiries of the Local Authority (CON 29R and O) – This search has been used for over 50 years to accompany the LLC Register search. The purpose of this search is to provide a purchaser with information about both the property in question and the area where the property is located. This search deals with matters such as roads, water pipes and drainage and it may seem to replicate the information held on the LLC Register. However, this is not the case. The information that a CON 29 search reveals relate to matters that might create a financial liability linked to a property but which have not yet been added to the LLC Register.

Imagine purchasing a property where the road leading to the property has to be maintained at the expense of the property owner and not the local authority. The process of ensuring a road is maintained by the local authority is known as road adoption. You could have the same situation but the expense could relate to the sewers and drains servicing a property. These types of issues along with issues about planning, building regulations, conservation decisions and contaminated land are considered relevant in every purchase and are obtained by using a form CON 29R.

The form CON 29O consists of further optional enquiries that might be relevant only in some cases. This would include issues relating to public footpaths, advertising signs, national parks and countryside matters, gas pipelines, common land, and village greens. These searches, if needed, each incur an additional fee.

Conclusion and Practice Update

The importance to a purchaser of a local search is protection from some unpleasant eventualities that could affect their use and enjoyment of a property or which may have an effect upon its value. Both the LLC and CON 29 searches are key elements in the conveyancing process. Hopefully you can see that these searches have been designed to provide important information that would potentially influence the use or future reselling of a property. Those reading this article who have completed the Legal Secretaries Diploma or Single Subject courses will no doubt be aware of some of the information given above. However, you should note that there are some pending changes to the current CON 29 forms that are currently being consulted upon by the Law Society. The reason for consultation is to make some changes to the forms to deal with new issues such as the government’s green deal, assets of community value and the new community infrastructure levy. The green deal refers to a type of ‘loan’ scheme a property owner might use to make improvements to the energy efficiency of their home, such as installing a new central heating boiler. The aim is to introduce new forms by 1 October 2014. For those readers who are currently in practice, having an awareness of these changes will no doubt impress those you work for.

Future Updates

Other conveyancing issues that may be considered in future updates include:

1) Pending proposals about issues of land drainage and flood defence, and

2) A proposal in January 2014 of this year that HM Land Registry may take over the Local Land Charges Registers from the 348 local authorities that currently maintain this information.