Amanda Cameron: Deadline looms for closure of world’s oldest land register
As the General Register of Sasines approaches the end of its 400-year reign, big decisions lie ahead for property and land owners, writes Amanda Cameron.
Scotland’s General Register of Sasines is the oldest national land register of property interests in the world, having been established in 1617. After 406 years in which it has efficiently served its purpose, it seems ironic that there is now a rather unseemly rush to do away with it.
The Land Register was first created in 1981, and it was envisaged then that the way land and property ownership is registered would change over an unspecified period of time, mainly happening when a property was sold.
However, in May 2014 Scottish ministers set a target of registering the ownership of all of Scotland’s land in the land register by 31 December 2024. The hard fact is that this deadline is now fast approaching. The Land Registration etc. (Scotland) Act 2012 which commenced on 8 December 2014 provides for completion of the Land Register.
More than 40 years after the Land Register’s establishment, less than half of Scotland’s land mass has been registered, and it is clear that new ways have to be found to add titles and speed up its completion, especially at a time when the market is slowing and, as a consequence, so are transfers.
In economic terms, it is evident that the need for Land Registration was becoming increasingly compelling.
Rather than a clear statement of property ownership, the Sasine Register is a chronological list of land deeds, often in centuries-old, hand-written descriptions and accompanied by vague plans of dubious accuracy.
The Land Register, in contrast, is map-based, using Ordnance Survey as its infrastructural underpinning. It is more concise, it can be searched online and it has the benefit of a clear title plan showing the extent of the holding.
To increase the chances of meeting target dates, Registers of Scotland have used a variety of tools, one of which was Keeper Induced Registration, which saw 700,000 properties being placed on the Land register in 2017 by Registers of Scotland.
They are also exploring alternatives, such as Unlocking Sasines, in which spatial data and indicative ownership extents are used to unlock historic information in the Sasines Register and link its search sheets to a map for the first time. This creates more visibility and is a “stepping stone” to the Land Register. Early indications are that a further 34.9 per cent of the land mass could be identifiable on the cadastral map through the “Unlocking the Sasine” initiative.
Our firm is excited to be working, together with other stakeholders, with Registers of Scotland to test this opportunity and support the further development of a platform regarding this information, currently locked in Sasine titles.
This is not the first time DM Hall has contributed its expertise. In the past, we have helped with a number of proposed strategies with Registers of Scotland and the firm will continue to offer its services in the interests of an orderly and mutually beneficial modernisation of property data.
Another major driver is the offer by the Keeper of the Land Register to property and land owners to register voluntarily.
DM Hall are in the unique position of being able to provide expertise not only in researching titles, but also thereafter preparing a detailed plan suitable for registration.
Apart from a current 25 per cent reduction in fees to Registers of Scotland in a movement to voluntarily register ones property, benefits include a state-backed warranty on titles, the opportunity to formally define boundaries and security of ownership.
Owners face big decisions as the deadline fast approaches as well as the prospect of not inconsiderable expense so, as ever, the prudent first step is to seek impartial professional advice.
Amanda Cameron is a partner in the Dunfermline office of DM Hall Chartered Surveyors