Reports that the government has put its plans to privatise the Land Registry on hold have been welcomed by open data campaigners and groups.
Land Registry sale has not been included in the housing bill – Photo credit: PA
The former chancellor George Osborne announced the plans to privatise the Land Registry, which maintains an up-to-date register of property transactions in England and Wales, earlier this year.
The proposals were expected to be included in the government’s Neighbourhood and Planning Bill – the Queen’s Speech said would include measures to “enable to privatise the Land Registry” – but the bill, published yesterday, does not mention the sale.
A statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industry said that “no decision” had been taken on the future of the registry.
It said: “A consultation on the Land Registry’s future closed in May and we are carefully considering our response. It is only right that new ministers take time to look at all their options before making a decision.”
However, opponents of the sale have been quick to welcome the news, with the Public and Commercial Services union saying that the plans appeared to have been “quietly dropped”.
Many critics, including Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin and the Open Data Institute, had previously raised concerns that the sale would affect the government’s commitment to its open-data agenda.
Commenting on the news of the pause to PublicTechnology, the ODI’s chief executive Jeni Tennison said the institute was “pleased to see the government reconsidering its plans for the Land Registry”.
She added that, along with other organisations such as Ordnance Survey and Companies House, it was a “vital part of our national data infrastructure” in the UK.
“To maximise the value they create, their data should be as open as possible while respecting privacy,” she said. “This will assist with a number of key policy goals such as combatting tax avoidance, improved housing, better public services, supporting private sector innovation and economic growth.
We hope to see a firm commitment from government to support these organisations, and others, as they continue their transition to open models.”
Meanwhile, City AM quotes the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron as saying that it is “in the best interests of the public to make this data free”.
He added: “Privatisation will drive up prices and will have a detrimental long term effect on the economy. The register is self-financing and poses no burdens upon the taxpaying public, to privatise it will only reduce people’s confidence in the registry itself.”
However, Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy, who has been prominent in the campaign against the sale, sounded a note of caution.
In a statement posted on Twitter he said it was a “great victory” for campaigners, but that there was more work to do as the sale had only been postponed, not cancelled. “I call on the government to now formally announced that they will be scrapping these plans,” he said.