10 March 2022 Industry news / West Midlands

Councils are categorising new road schemes as planning permissions for ‘Private Bodies’ meaning they are invisible to the standard questions answered within the local search for homebuyers.

This is leaving homebuyers vulnerable to unseen road schemes that are planned but not yet under construction within 200 metres of their doorstep, and conveyancers wide open to complaints.

This alarming and growing trend has triggered the launch of a new campaign, led by Kate Bould, who is the managing director of Index West Midlands Property Information, that aims to make conveyancers and residential property solicitors aware of the problem, to ensure they always select a simple option on an existing form.

“The plight of one homebuyer was brought to my attention,” explains Kate, a residential property search professional.

“Three weeks after moving into his new luxury, semi-rural property, the buyers discovered their home was to be perched on the edge of a new major road scheme, built to give access to a huge mixed use development less than a mile away that would include 2670 houses, a 120-bed hotel, railway station, sports facilities, offices, a supermarket, secondary and primary schools, two children’s nurseries, a library, doctors surgery and offices.”

Determined to find out how the plans for this major road scheme had not appeared in a robust set of searches ordered by the solicitor, Kate spoke to the councils, highways and planning departments.

“What this detective work revealed was an alarming, unbelievable and very concerning trend,” she says. “Many councils are putting many approved road schemes under outline planning permissions with the developer, which means they are not revealed on the local authorities register and thus not revealed by ‘standard’ search enquiries.

“A TA6 form is completed by the seller when they sell a property, and reveals anything and everything, good and bad including neighbour disputes, flooding, knotweed, and planning applications which the seller knows about,” she explains.

“The buyer will then carry out a local search which includes lots of information about what is approved, pending and refused but only for the subject property curtilage.

“What is significant is that the local search includes questions regarding any road schemes, but does not include road schemes by private bodies or developers as standard. This is an additional search and cost, and is rarely ordered for residential dwellings.

“In this instance, the council’s register showed no road schemes within the search results, however a road scheme was started just after the property conveyed – on discovering this, we endeavoured to find out whether the council records were correct, or if there had been an error.  So the searches were double-checked, and we determined they were correct, and no road schemes were listed – so how was the road being dug up and widened so near to the property without being revealed in the search?“

To answer these key questions, Kate’s team ordered a Question 4, which is an Optional Enquiry that reveals any road schemes by private bodies and developers. 

“We were shocked to discover that the road scheme had been approved on an outline application in 2012, despite work only commencing in 2021,” explains Kate.  “So we investigated further because if this was the case it would mean that road schemes within 200 metres of a property, that are planned but not yet started, will only be searched for by using the Question 4 optional enquiry.

“This is the crux of this scenario, and is what needs to be addressed immediately,” adds Kate. “This is not a one off. Our detective work has confirmed it is a trend, and one we want to share with the conveyancing world. It is a revelation, and a staggering discovery.”

For the property in this scenario, Kate’s research revealed plans for a major road scheme that would transform a rural location with a  lane running alongside the boundary of the property, into a major road scheme. What it also established was that this  ‘missing information’ was in fact correct, as planning for the road scheme was approved by a private body and adjacent to the property, which was dug up and construction of a new road under development by the private body, who in this case, was the developer.

“The first this homeowner knew was when three weeks after moving into his new property, contractors arrived and dug-up the wide grass verge adjacent to the property, at the same time removing several established trees,” adds Kate.

Commenting on the trend Kate and her team has identified, Stuart Whaley, chairman of the Index Franchise Association, says: “Index has identified evidence and found cases where road schemes have been approved, and continue to be approved, by means of a ‘loophole’ in the question regarding the councils’ register. This is a very alarming discovery.

“No other UK search provider interrogates data sets like Index does, and this is further evidence of our commitment to supporting property conveyancers and home buyers. Index really are different – we are not simply a ‘factory’ churning out searches with no real ownership of the information we provide.”

Paul Addison, managing director of Dev Assist, a company specialising in auditing locations for development risks and opportunities, adds: “I have worked with Kate at Index for over seven years. It is so rare, if not unique, to find someone in the industry that interrogates the quality and usefulness of searches and reports. Kate truly can advise her clients not only what is the most sensible reports to order, but which are the best. I whole heartedly recommend her.”

Optional Enquiry Question 4 must be routine in wake of ‘unbelievable’ trend

“Only by piecing together the evidence we have gathered is it now known that for many years, planning teams appear to be including the road schemes by private bodies/developers in their outline applications. This has been an unknown factor up until now, and has left the conveyancing industry and in turn homeowners at risk of thinking they have been covered by the local search results, when in fact every solicitor has to order the additional Question 4 search if they are to ensure full risk and knowledge is covered prior to purchasing the property.”

Kate is urging conveyancers and solicitors to select an Optional Enquiry 4 on every residential property transaction from now on: “This is an optional question that can be paid for and asks the same question as 3.4, which is a standard enquiry, that is: are there any road schemes approved and not yet started by a Private Bodies.

Kate hopes the campaign will succeed in raising awareness of the risks: “We are urging all residential property solicitors and conveyancers, as well as estate agents, everyone involved in property sales and purchases, and the homebuyers themselves to be vigilant – and importantly to routinely request the ‘Optional Enquiry Question 4 for clients, which costs  between £20 and £45 , depending on local council charges.“

Unfortunately, some local authorities do not answer Question 4. “Other options to protect against and cover this type of risk include requesting a Planning Interpretive Report via your conveyancing solicitor, which plots any development or schemes surrounding the property. Costs starts at £15 for commercial and residential properties valued up to £1million for commercial and resi property rising to up to £30 for properties valued up to £3 million value is £30 .Homebuyers are recommended to also look into taking out Risk Insurance.”

Index West Midlands provides conveyancing searches, reports and property transaction solutions such as environmental risk factors, HS2, utility and telecommunications reports, for commercial and residential property lawyers, real estate and agriculture lawyers. It operates across Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and the Black Country. You can find out more about Kate and her team here.

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