When a property comes to be sold in Scotland, it is a legal requirement that the seller in all but a few cases must produce a Home Report and complete a Property Questionnaire. It might therefore be assumed that the foregoing question can be answered in the affirmative – and that you do know everything you need to know. Unfortunately, this is often not the case because of the disparate way in which information on land and property is currently stored.
In Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the United Kingdom, purchasers, lenders and others interested in property have to search a wide range of databases and other sources to assemble a full picture of the background of a particular property.
Unfortunately, the result is that many purchasers do not find out all they might need to know about the property about to be purchased or secured in favour of a lender. This can have adverse consequences. For example, a property enquiry search is carried out as part of a residential property transaction. That search is property-specific however and will not necessarily alert a purchaser to possible development of an adjoining property which might affect the amenity of the property being purchased.
There are ways to get round the deficiencies in the current system but why should the system not be more transparent – and cheaper – with less risk of such adverse consequences to the purchaser or lender?
The absence of a coherent national land and property information service increases the personal, business, economic and environmental risks and results in significant inefficiency and waste of resources. We should have such an information service already, given that the information exists in various forms. However, it is not accessible in a joined-up way.
An attempt was made to create a national land information service 15 years ago when a group of interested organisations developed a prototype called “ScotLIS”. ScotLIS was a project which explored the possibilities and opportunities of developing a ‘one-stop shop’ with easy and affordable access to a wide range of information about land and property. Although ScotLIS failed because the technology then available was not robust enough, the technology has now forged ahead to the extent that the original aspirations are now readily achievable.
Countries such as Norway have gone down the fully-digitised one-search route and all relevant information is accessed through the all-in-one portal Infoland – www.infoland.no Infoland was created by the Norwegian Land Information Company – now known as Ambita AS – www.ambita.no Information is made available to the public, banks, financial institutions, property professionals and other interested parties. In essence, Infoland acts as a hub where queries are made and information is provided to interested parties.
The benefits of a coherent, trusted and consistent set of master information on land and property in Scotland are considerable – not least because it should make the sale/purchase/lending process more accurate and (hopefully) cheaper on a per transaction basis. These benefits alone, it is suggested, are sufficient for this aspiration to be investigated further.
The current fragmented nature of land and property information holdings and its susceptibility to duplication perpetuates inefficiency, hinders clarity and ultimately serves to constrain or prevent the introduction of new and more innovative ways of managing and using property in response to the priorities of society.
Unifi Scotland (www.unifiscotland.com) recognises that land and property information underpins many varied activities and agendas, and believes alignment with its three fundamental objectives (Satisfying the Citizen, Improving Efficiency and Supporting Economic Growth) can best be achieved through consideration of three areas of primary focus:
- Improved and smarter utilisation of property address referencing – in order to leverage resolution of current inadequacies and failings by enabling interconnect of otherwise disparate information holdings.
- Enabling more expedient property transactions – in the interest of better serving the citizen and enabling government efficiency.
- Clarifying the full extent of Scotland’s ‘civil estate’ – to ensure that the land and property owned or occupied by Scotland’s different public agencies is managed to its optimum potential in accordance with public interest.
These and other related topics are to be debated at a Conference on 10 March, promoted by Unifi Scotland. The organisers are pleased to have involvement in the Conference from the Deputy First Minister (Finance), John Swinney MSP, Registers of Scotland, The Law Society of Scotland, RICS and Ambita AS.
There is an opportunity to create a National Land and Property Information Service in Scotland which will benefit the sale and purchase of land and property. That opportunity should be debated now.
As published in The Scotsman on 9 February 2015
* Professor Stewart Brymer of Brymer Legal Limited and the University of Dundee is a member of Unifi Scotland and speaks at A world-class digital land and property information database for Scotland, 10 March: www.scotsmanconferences.com