Compulsory purchase

Discover why and when compulsory purchase is used.

Compulsory purchase is when the government, council or a utility company has the legal right to buy or take rights over private property. This is if it falls within a public or private construction project considered important for social and economic change. This can include airport expansion, electricity pylons and cables, housing developments and road and rail projects.

Law on compulsory purchase

The law on compulsory purchase in England and Wales is complex and derived from a variety of statutes and cases over more than 100 years. When land is needed for a project, there are two stages for the approval of compulsory purchase:

1. A public general Act, which authorises the use of compulsory purchase powers to take land for a particular purpose
2. A second stage, which specifies the land needed for a particular scheme

Acts which incorporate this procedure provide the mechanism for acquisitions made by public and local authorities.

The Law Commission published the Towards a Compulsory Purchase Code report in 2003. This report recommended clearer guidance for schemes such as the HS2 high-speed rail project between London and Birmingham.

Ryde's Scale

Surveyor’s fees for compulsory purchase work used to be calculated using Ryde’s Scale.

In 1855, Edward Ryde introduced a scale of surveyors' fees in respect of property taken under compulsory powers. The ODPM (now the DCLG) announced the abandonment of Ryde's Scale on 18 July 2002.

Our resources 

We have also produced a guidance note for our members, entitled 'Surveyors Advising in Respect of Compulsory Purchase and Statutory Compensation, UK, 1st edition'.

Government resources

Compulsory Purchase and Compensation booklets 1-4 explain how the compulsory purchase system works.