Monday 23 July 2018

You can’t do that! Restricting use and sale of Government land

The Victorian Government Landholding Policy permits the sale or transfer of land to a government or community organisation for a public or community purpose where the terms of sale include a restriction on title reflecting that purpose which allows the State to control the future use and transfer of the land after disposal.[1]

The transfer of State owned or Crown land for public or community purposes will often be for nil consideration in recognition of the fact that the transferee will have obligations to make the land available for the intended purpose and to ensure that it is properly maintained for safe and enjoyable community use.

Once an agency has determined that it wishes to transfer land to an appropriate entity for public or community purposes, the next question is how best to ensure that the entity uses the land for the designated purposes and does not sell it to a third party to achieve a windfall gain or a profit.

Options for restricting use and sale of Government land

Restrictive covenants

As the Landholding Policy states, the restrictions are to be registered on the title to the land.  The traditional means of restricting use of land is via a restrictive covenant registered on the title of the land to be burdened by the covenant.  A restrictive covenant is an agreement between two landowners that one land owner will not do certain things on their land which could negatively affect the amenity of adjoining owners, for the benefit of the land held by the other owner. 

However, restrictive covenants are often not available to the State because they generally require that the State owns adjoining or reasonably contiguous land in freehold which will benefit from the restrictions set out in the covenant.  If these requirements are not met, the option will not be available.  The other challenge is that restrictive covenants can only include negative obligations (ie: an obligation not to do something on the land) and cannot oblige the burdened owner to spend money.

Statutory agreements

To address the shortcomings of restrictive covenants, various Acts provide for statutory agreements that can be entered into for public purposes and impose positive land use and development obligations on landowners.  Such agreements may be registered on the title to the land and can bind future transferees of the land, if transfer is permitted under the terms of the agreement.  Some of the more common statutory agreements are discussed below.

Section 173 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 allows a responsible authority, commonly a local Council, to enter into an agreement with a land owner.  The agreement can provide for a restriction on the use or development of land, or any matter intended to achieve a planning objective in Victoria.  The responsible authority can enter into the agreement on anybody's behalf, and assumes responsibility for its enforcement once the agreement is recorded on the title to the land.

Where land is part of a designated project area, section 22 of the Project Development and Construction Management Act 1994 and section 49 of the Development Victoria Act 2003, allow the project authority under each Act to enter into an agreement with the transferee regarding use or development of the land.  In both cases, the agreements may be registered on title to the land as if they were an agreement under s 173 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987.  The key difference is that these agreements do not rely on the cooperation of the local Council to enforce the landowner's promises under the agreement and can instead by led and enforced by the project authority or facilitating agency.

Similarly, under s 69 of the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987, the Secretary body corporate under that Act may enter into an agreement with a land owner relating to the management, use, development, preservation or conservation of land.  An agreement may also be entered into to give effect to the purposes of a law considered to be a relevant law.  The Act provides that any agreement will bind successors as long as the Secretary applies in writing to the Registrar of Titles to have it recorded on the title to the land.

A relatively recent example is the advent of the forestry and carbon management agreements as well as the carbon sequestration agreements.  These are provided for by a detailed scheme contained in the Climate Change Act 2017 (Vic).  The Act recognises proprietary rights in carbon sequestration and allows for the recording of various agreements between the landowner and the relevant person, which create binding obligations that run with the land and ensure the ongoing management of forestry, soil, and carbon sequestration rights.

As Property law experts within Government, the VGSO Property Team is well placed to assist you with land use arrangements and other property issues.  If you need further advice in relation to restricting the future use and transfer of State owned land, please contact:

Elizabeth Wortley
Senior Solicitor
9947 1433

Eloise Connelly 
Senior Solicitor
9947 1493


[1] Department of Treasury and Finance, Victorian Government Landholding Policy and Guidelines (September 2017) ii.

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