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Public inquiries for compulsory purchase orders

If anyone objects to the council's plans to buy land using a compulsory purchase order (CPO), a public inquiry must be held. This page explains what happens at a public inquiry.

You can find out more about objecting to a compulsory purchase order.

What is a public inquiry?

A public inquiry is an open hearing that offers objectors a chance to explain why they are opposed to the CPO. It also gives the council a chance to put forward its case and justify why it needs the land. Both sides can produce evidence, call witnesses to back up their case and question any witnesses provided by the other side.

A public inquiry must be held if any owners or tenants have objected to the CPO. If no owners or tenants have objected but other parties have (for example, residents who will be affected by the council's plans) then it's up to the Scottish Minister to decide whether or not to hold an inquiry.

The Minister will appoint a Reporter to run the inquiry. The Reporter may be a lawyer, or an expert in planning or surveying. The Reporter can make recommendations to the Minister, but the Minister has the final say as to whether the CPO will be made (see 'what happens after the inquiry' below).

How will I know if there's going to be a public inquiry?

It may take several months to set up the inquiry, so don't worry if you don't hear anything for a while. Once a date has been set, all objectors who haven't withdrawn their objections will be notified about the inquiry, and it'll also be advertised in at least one local newspaper.

Do I need to attend the inquiry?

Public inquiries (as the name implies) are open to the public, so anyone interested can attend.

If the Reporter believes it's particularly important that you appear at the inquiry, you'll be sent an official notice ordering you to attend. You should get at least four weeks' notice, and if the inquiry is held more than 10 miles away from your home, you'll be able to claim travel expenses. You may also be asked to produce certain documents to back up your objections (for example, photographs or a survey of your property) - you may need to send these in at least four weeks in advance. If you don't turn up at the inquiry or don't produce the evidence requested, you may be fined or even sent to prison for up to three months.

If you don't feel confident appearing at the inquiry yourself, you can ask a solicitor, surveyor or other professional to represent you (see 'how should I prepare for the inquiry' below).

You may also be asked to attend a meeting before the inquiry, so the Reporter can arrange an agenda and timetable for the inquiry and ensure that the objectors won't all be raising the same points. For example, if lots of owners, tenants or residents are objecting on the same grounds, the Reporter may suggest that you elect a spokesperson to represent you collectively.

How should I prepare for the inquiry?

A public inquiry is not a court case, and is meant to be relatively informal. However, depending on the size of the development planned and the number of people attending, the process may seem quite daunting. The council and their lawyers and surveyors are likely to use a lot of jargon and technical language, which can be confusing.

To make sure you're prepared, it's a good idea to get advice from a solicitor, surveyor, architect or engineer, or from an agency such as Planning Aid for Scotland. They should be able to help you work out how to present your case.

Depending on your income, you may be able to get advice and assistance through the Scottish Legal Aid Board to pay for a consultation with a solicitor. You can also ask a professional such as a surveyor to appear for you at the inquiry, although this won't be covered by legal aid.

If the Scottish Minister doesn't confirm the order, the council will have to pay back any expenses you ran up preparing for and appearing at the inquiry (for example, solicitor's fees or travel fares) so make sure you keep any receipts.

What happens at the inquiry?

Inquiries are normally held between around 10am and 4.30pm, with a break for lunch. Long, complex inquiries may run over several weeks or even months. You won't need to attend the entire inquiry, but it's important that you turn up at the start, to find out when you'll get your chance to speak.

When your turn comes round, you'll be able to put forward your objection, to call witnesses and to question the council's witnesses.

What happens after the inquiry?

Once the inquiry is over, the Reporter will send a report to the Minister, along with any recommendations. This will probably take at least six weeks. The Minister will then decide whether or not to confirm the CPO. Usually, they make their decision within two months but they can take up to 18 months.

What happens if the Scottish Minister doesn't confirm the compulsory purchase order?

In this case, the council won't be able to go ahead with its plan. If you objected at the public inquiry, or if you attended the inquiry and asked to be kept informed, you'll be sent a copy of the Minister's decision. Otherwise, you should be able to find out the outcome of the inquiry by checking the local papers or your council's website, or by contacting your local tenants' or residents' group.

If you appeared at the inquiry, the council will have to pay any expenses you ran up preparing for and attending the inquiry so make sure you keep receipts for everything.

What happens if the Scottish Minister confirms the order?

If the Scottish Minister overseeing a compulsory purchase order confirms the order, all owners and occupiers will be sent:

  • an official 'notice of confirmation'
  • a copy of the order
  • additional information explaining the effect of the CPO
  • a form for claiming compensation.

The council should also publicise the CPO in at least one local newspaper. Read the page on after a CPO has been confirmed to find out what happens next.

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The important points

  • A public inquiry is an open hearing that offers objectors a chance to explain why they are opposed to a compulsory purchase order.
  • A public inquiry must be held if any owners or tenants have objected to the compulsory purchase order.
  • Once a date has been set,the objectors will be notified about the inquiry, and it'll also be advertised in at least one local newspaper.
  • A public inquiry is not a court case, and is meant to be relatively informal. 

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