Land Readjustment as a Method of Development Land Assembly: A Comparative Overview

By Home, Robert | The Town Planning Review, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Land Readjustment as a Method of Development Land Assembly: A Comparative Overview


Home, Robert, The Town Planning Review


In many countries land readjustment (LR) is a preferred legal instrument for development land assembly, especially when public funds for compulsory purchase and infrastructure provision may be lacking. There is a scattered literature on the subject, but limited awareness of it in the English-speaking world. This paper, after summarising the LR method and the literature on its application, discusses its use in selected countries and its trans-national transfer, from origins in Germany to subsequent use in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. The reasons for its absence from British town planning legislation are discussed. The conclusions evaluate the factors influencing its adoption and success, and its potential application for different land assembly situations.

The pressures of urbanisation in most countries of the world create a need for methods to assemble development land. Over the past fifty years the urban population of the world has doubled (currently about three billion people), and by the year 2025 an estimated 80 per cent of that urban population will live in developing countries. To accommodate them an estimated 125 million hectares of land (or about 10 per cent of the potential crop land of developing countries) may have to be converted to urban use, with or without being officially planned (Crosson and Anderson, 1992).

There are two standard methods of development-land assembly - voluntary cooperation between landowners, or compulsory purchase by a public authority (or a mixture of the two). With private rights to property generally protected under the law (including human rights law), any state expropriation has to be justified as in the public interest and subject to due process, with compensation paid in accordance with an accepted valuation code.

The government of England and Wales has recently simplified its land acquisition procedures in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, following a review that claimed to be 'fundamental' (DETR, 2001). That review, however, made little investigation of other possible methods for land assembly, notwithstanding some attempts at the time to promote 'assisted land pooling' (e.g. Dixon, 2001; Lichfield, 2002). Such alternative methods have long existed in continental Europe and elsewhere, as this paper will explore. Now that the UK government is seeking to increase significantly house-building rates, and shortages of potential development land are being encoun- tered, this failure to explore alternatives may yet need to be reassessed.

Meanwhile, academic research on comparative law is beginning to address potential knowledge transfer in land law and regulation. The distinction between the civil law traditions of mainland Europe and the common law of England and the Commonwealth has been much discussed in the context of European Union integration (Sanchez Jordan and Gambaro, 2002; van Caenegem, 2002). The 'Copenhagen criteria' for EU accession require applicant countries to protect private property rights within the framework of a free-market economy, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in 1996 instituted a Working Party on Land Administration, aiming to exchange experience and promote real-estate markets for countries 'in transition' from socialism (UNECE, 2007). Land titling systems guaranteeing property rights are promoted as a necessary function of the modern nation-state, and Hernando de Soto's work on land titling and economic development also emphasises the need to integrate pluralistic legal systems (De Soto, 2000; Home, 2003). The UN Commission on Human Settlements initiated at the 2006 World Urban Forum a Global Land Tools Network which can investigate legal instruments for land management (Global Land Tools Network, 2007).

Land readjustment (LR) and land pooling can offer an attractive legal mechanism for land assembly, especially when public funds for compulsory purchase and infrastructure provision are limited. …

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