By Matthew Ponsford
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The British government has abandoned plans to privatize the UK Land Registry that has recorded ownership of property in the country for more than 150 years after a change of leadership at the ministry in charge, according to a government source.
The sell-off was expected to be included when a planning and infrastructure bill went before parliament on Wednesday evening but was omitted.
A government source, who asked not to be named, said new ministers appointed after Theresa May took over as prime minister in July were being given time to consider options but that plans for privatization had been dropped.
The self-financing Land Registry, set up in 1862, holds and maintains the data for around 24 million property titles which the public can access for 3 pounds per search and other organizations use to provide a range of house price measures.
David Lammy, an opposition member of parliament who had been a long-term critic of the sell-off, welcomed the change of plans as a victory for Land Registry staff, campaigners and the people and businesses who use the Land Registry's services.
"It is also good news for transparency and openness in our property market," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"I am pleased that the government has seen sense and decided to postpone this misguided privatization, but this is not over yet. I call on the Government to now formally announce that they will be completely scrapping these plans."
Proposals to privatize the record were announced by former finance minister George Osborne in November as part of a 5 billion pound ($6.6 billion) program of sales, but the government later signaled a re-think during July's parliamentary debate.
Anti-corruption experts argue that a publicly accessible land registry is a powerful tool to tackle corruption, and transferring it to private ownership is not in the public interest.
An online petition launched in December opposing the privatization attracted more than 318,000 signatures.
The registry became the responsibility of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy when it was created in July by May.
The government source said ministers are considering what response they will make to the results of a consultation process launched in March.
"It is only right that new ministers take time to look at all their options before making a decision," the source said.
During the consultation, the UK's competition watchdog raised concerns that the sell-off would result in a private monopoly that would not operate in the interest of users.
A spokesperson for the Competition and Markets Authoritysaid on Thursday that the organization will continue to offer views to ensure that the registry supports competition and innovation for the benefit of consumers.
($1 = 0.7521 pounds)
(Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, traficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)