On the PLANET: New Brunswick land registry earning $60,000 a month

New Brunswick has launched a pay-as-you-go electronic online land registry that has become a big hit with customers even though it has only been partly implemented.

The system, known as PLANET, counts lawyers, land surveyors, real estate agents, police and government departments as its main users. They have eagerly embraced the system from its startup in 1998, Bernard Arseneau, director of electronic services with Services New Brunswick (SNB), told the Lac Carling Congress.

PLANET software, Arseneau reported, enables a client to electronically access a central data bank maintained by SNB, which provides digital maps of a parcel of land and details on who is the registered owner, the assessed value of the property and current tax levels. The system will cost about $10 million once it is fully implemented later this decade, but even with the partial service it currently offers, it already earns about $60,000 a month from 1,600 paying customers for SNB. So far the system offers an electronic index, information on all land titles in the province and property mapping tools and details. All land transactions and related matters in the province are now done through PLANET. Still to come are electronic registration of land sales, an upgraded browser, the Land Gazette, assessment information, precise boundary information and a description of parcels under land titles.

The Land Gazette will be a key feature of the PLANET system because it will list all notices attached to a parcel of land, Arseneau said. There will be a hot link from the Gazette to the text of the various notices. Arseneau said the notices will outline possible problems or restrictions on what can be done with a parcel of land. They will also describe agriculture restrictions, soil contamination, watersheds and whether it was ever used as a garbage dump or for underground petroleum. “If the land was in a flood plain or a flood-risk area, the buyer would want to know that.”

As well, a would-be buyer can put an electronic lasso around the location of a prospective property purchase and get details about the neighboring lands such as owners and any use restrictions. This is a real benefit for users, Arseneau said, because they can obtain a big-picture look at any property in the province and see the kinds of notices that have been issued for the surrounding area.

In the past, New Brunswick’s environment department would post notices in land registry offices about flood risks or other problems. The shift to searching land titles electronically means lawyers aren’t spending time in those offices and are unlikely to see those notices. Now they can be alerted to them through the PLANET system.

Arseneau cautions that in most cases, the information is provided on a best-efforts basis and includes contact points or Web sites for learning more about the notice. All the information is downloadable or can be ordered.

Arseneau said that when the PLANET system was still in the planning stage, developers realized that New Brunswick’s small population base meant that just having an electronic registry of property titles would not generate sufficient business for the system to pay for itself. “There would be too little benefit for most users so we had to have other features such as electronic registration and the search abilities.”

To use the system, customers have to get an access code from SNB and then are billed monthly for whatever services they used. Arseneau pointed out that his agency designates authorized users who can file ands remove notices from the system. The system requires minimal operational cost and maintenance costs for SNB. The Agency also says that the gradual implementation of PLANET and development of related services has been the best approach in terms of controlling costs and increasing user benefits. There are a number of information search features that PLANET users can employ to track down information on properties in New Brunswick.

Anyone interested in more information on PLANET, or who wishes to test the system, can get a temporary password from bernard.arseneau@snb.ca.

Alex Binkley (alex.binkley@sympatico.ca) is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist.

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