The Future of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs)

CPOs are an important tool for local authorities wishing to assemble complex sites and to bring forward land for development.  Whilst this mechanism has a long history within the planning system, in recent decades, local authorities have been reluctant to use CPOs as part of a proactive planning strategy.  CPOs can be an emotive issue, they are politically sensitive and raise concerns regarding the rights of those displaced by new development.  They are also a costly and time consuming option for cash-strapped local councils and require resources and expertise that many councils have lost over the years.

Nevertheless, as the demand for new housing and infrastructure continues to intensify, local authorities may wish to reconsider the place of CPOs as a tool within their broader development strategies.  Last week, Planning Futures, in conjunction with the City Law School, hosted an event to explore the future of CPOs and their potential to unlock land for development and, ultimately, housing delivery.

The key points discussed on that evening are outlined below.

Planning Futures would like to thank Ruth Cadbury MP for chairing the event.  Simon Ricketts, Mike Kiely, and Greg Dickson for their contributions to our expert panel (a balanced panel representing public & private sector planners as well as the legal profession).  We would also like to thank Luke McDonagh and the City Law School for hosting this stimulating and productive event.         


Should CPOs be used more often?

There was general agreement amongst the panel that there was greater scope for the use of CPOs.  Greg Dickson, from Turley, pointed out that despite the bad publicity that the CPO process sometimes receives, the overwhelming majority (80%) of CPO’s are approved.  Mike Kiely of the Planning Officers Society argued that Government guidance on the process was actually very good and relatively simple to follow.  CPOs, he said, should be taken out of the “too difficult to do” box.

The outlook for future is also good.  Simon Ricketts of King & Wood, Mallesons, argued that substantial improvements are being made to the legislative basis for CPOs – both through the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and through the current Neighbourhood Planning Bill.

There was consensus that CPOs could play a greater role within local planning, particularly in terms of housing development – where the instrument has traditionally been used less frequently than during the development of sites for infrastructure and commercial development.


Only part of the Puzzle

Several important points were made, by panellists and audience members alike, that CPOs are only part of the puzzle – and should be considered within a range of tools that LPAs have at their disposal in bringing forward sites for housing.  As Simon Ricketts argued, CPOs must be considered within the “context of wider legislative and policy initiatives in relation to the operation of the planning system”.

To this end, several of the panellists agreed that there is significant scope to link CPOs (or the threat thereof) to instruments such as Permission in Principle –  sites allocated within local planning documents could be pushed forward with greater urgency by local authorities.  As Greg Dixon commented, CPOs should be seen as a stick with which to guide development.


Fair Compensation

There was a broad consensus within the room that compensation is a big issue. This is one of the trickier areas in considering CPOs, both from a practice perspective, but perhaps also from a moral perspective.  Setting rates of compensation that are both fair to those displaced by a new scheme, whilst ensuring that such a scheme remains viable and is brought forward is no doubt a difficult balancing act.

Simon Ricketts argued that the attempt by government to codify the principle of the no-scheme world within the Neighbourhood Planning bill could be helpful in this regard.

Nevertheless, this alone will not eliminate controversy.  Many issues were raised regarding how to deal appropriately with “hope-value” and how to avoid inflated values threatening the viability of the scheme.  Ultimately, this will remain one of the major stumbling blocks for those wishing to pursue CPOs in the future.



Whilst there was general agreement that CPOs, by their very nature, are complex and time consuming, the issue of Secretary of State approval was flagged as one area where efficiencies might be made.  Greg Dickson argued that, even in relatively clear-cut cases SoS approval can often add months to the process.  On this point, Simon Ricketts suggested that the measures contained within the Planning & Housing Act may make improvements in this area.



This summary represents only a brief overview of what was a very thoughtful and detailed debate.  Simon Ricketts has written an account of his own position on CPOs following the event at his SIMONICITY blog.

What is perhaps most striking about the debate is that there is significant appetite for the greater – though still restrained – use of CPOs.  Most importantly, many of the panel and audience members felt that CPOs could be used more proactively by local councils wishing to pursue a more proactive approach towards development in their areas – particularly when it comes to making provision for housing.  What is clear however, is that such local authorities will also struggle to find the resources to push such an agenda forward.  As it stands, local authorities are usually reluctant to engage with the CPO process without a sponsoring developer.  This may be the greatest obstacle to CPOs taking their place within the local planning process.

Cian Bryan

Cian Bryan is a Director at Planning Futures

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