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What is a compulsory purchase order?

This page explains what compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) are and how they work, and where you can get help and advice if your home is subject to a CPO.

What is a compulsory purchase order (CPO)?

If an authority such as the council needs to acquire land in order to carry out work for the benefit of the general public, they can apply to the Scottish Ministers for a compulsory purchase order (CPO). A CPO is an order that gives the authority the legal power to buy your home or land from you.

What is the compulsory purchase order process?

In order to get a CPO, the council must follow a set legal procedure. This involves:

  • identifying the exact area it needs to buy and ensuring it's suitable for the designated purpose
  • finding out who owns and lives in the properties in the area
  • advertising the proposed CPO and sending out official notices to owners and occupiers, to give you a chance to object to the plans
  • submitting the CPO to the relevant Scottish Minister for approval
  • if necessary, attending a public inquiry
  • getting the CPO confirmed by the Minister
  • sending out further notices to announce the confirmation of the order
  • taking over ownership of the property.

Who can get a CPO?

CPOs can be obtained by:

  • the council
  • the Scottish Government
  • railway companies
  • utility companies such as Scottish Gas, Scottish Power and Scottish Water.

In this section, we use the example of the council.

When are CPOs used?

CPOs are used when land is needed to meet a public need.

For example, a council may need to buy land to:

  • build or widen a road
  • erect a public building such as a school or leisure centre
  • make improvements to or regenerate an area
  • demolish dangerous or seriously substandard buildings.

The Scottish Government may need to buy land to:

  • extend an airport
  • build a new railway line
  • build a new motorway.

A utility company may need to buy land to:

  • lay water, gas or sewage pipes
  • erect pylons or lay cables
  • build a wind farm.

In some circumstances, the authority may only need to buy part of your property - for example, the council may want to buy part of your garden, in order to widen a road.

The council may also purchase your home using a CPO if the property is in a serious state of disrepair and needs to be demolished.

What can I do to prevent the council getting a CPO?

If you suspect that the council has plans for your area that may involve your property (for example, if you've read about proposed plans in the newspaper or if the council has asked to survey your land), contact the planning or building departments to find out what they have in mind - you should be able to find contact details on your council's website.

You can then take early action by writing to the council, your local councillor and your MSP to complain - the Write To Them website can help you find out how to get in touch. Bear in mind that you won't necessarily be able to stop the council's plans this way - even if your councillor and MSP take on your cause, they may not be able to change the situation.

It's also a good idea to join forces with your neighbours and other local residents and businesses who may be affected. You can do this by getting in touch with your local tenants' and residents' associations, or, if necessary, by getting up your own campaigning group. For example, you could consider setting up a petition against the planned development. Our page on objecting to planning and building work has more information on this.

What if I want to sell my home to the council?

Before the council applies for a CPO, it may well try to arrange a voluntary sale with you, to save having to go through the CPO process. In practice, most 'compulsory' sales go through this way.

If you are interested in selling, you should speak to a solicitor at a law centre or private practice. A solicitor will be able to advise you on your options and, if you do decide to sell, they can:

  • organise an independent survey to be carried out if appropriate
  • negotiate a good price with the council
  • ensure you don't miss out on any compensation you would receive if the council had got a CPO
  • carry out the legal conveyancing work involved in selling your home.

Solicitors are entitled to charge you for the work they do on your behalf and this can be expensive. Make sure you ask for a fee quote before any work is done.

Where can I get help and advice?

Planning Aid for Scotland offers free, independent advice to individuals and community groups on all aspects of planning and related issues. You can also get information and advice from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Scotland (RICS), your council's planning department and your local Citizens Advice.

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The important points

  • A compulsory purchase order is a order that gives the authority the legal power to buy your home or land from you.
  • In order to get a compulsory purchase order, the council must follow a set legal procedure.
  • In some circumstances, the authority may only need to buy part of your property.

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