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Sale of public land for new homes will not meet 2020 target

The sale of public land for housing, which forms an important part of the Government’s ambitions to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, has not met targets, official figures show.

Although over 40,000 homes have been brought to market on public land sold through both the current and previous Public Land for Housing programmes, this is just 24% of the target set, according to a progress report published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Many more thousands of homes due to be constructed this year, but the programme will not reach the target to release land for 160,000 homes by the end of March 2020 which was set in 2015.

This comes after an IPA review in August 2017 which found that ‘there was an impressive commitment in every department’ to the programme but concluded that that even with support and oversight from [MHCLG], this alone is insufficient to meet the programme’s targets.

Following the review, departments reassessed their delivery plans in October 2017 which confirmed land for at least 65,000 homes had a high probability of being released by 2020, including land already sold.

But now, other land forecast to be delivered by the end of March 2020 will not now come forward because it is either no longer available for development for housing by 2020, for example because it has been repurposed to meet other important local priorities such as schools or employment, or because it will not be ready for disposal for housing by 2020, due to issues such as changing operational requirements, planning, reprovision constraints or environmental concerns which prevent exchange of contracts within the programme timeframe.

This land has been reforecast for disposal beyond 2020 and the review document says that the MHCLG, other Government departments, the Office of Government Property (OGP) and Homes England are now working collaboratively to enhance the programme delivery.

This includes challenging other departments not currently contributing to the programme to consider what they can do. For example, the Department for Education (DfE) and its arm’s length body, LocatED, are launching a pilot to explore how parts of the school estate could be creatively redeveloped to maximise investment in school buildings and, in turn, provide market and affordable housing, especially in areas of high housing need.

It also includes bringing existing planned disposals forward for delivery within the programme. A deep dive by departments in spring 2018 identified a number of sites that could potentially be delivered by 2020 with additional support. Work is being done to accelerate delivery of as much of this land as possible.

The report says that departments are providing disposal plans with milestones to ensure plans are realistic, and opportunities to work collaboratively to remove barriers are seized. At the same time, departments are working hard to identify additional disposal opportunities for housing. This includes reviewing parts of their estates to identify more land and exploring ways of making better use of public assets, for example by assessing the viability of reprovision of car parking thereby releasing land for homes on existing car park sites.

Also, OGP, supported by MHCLG and Homes England, is exploring a revised approach to land identification to develop a robust, consistent system aligned to the annual Strategic Asset Management Plan (SAMP) process.

There will be access to additional financial support including through the Small Sites Fund to help departments unblock surplus land for housing through Homes England and the Greater London Authority (GLA).

Housing Minister Kit Malthouse said that there will also be a longer term approach to ensure there is a sustainable land pipeline to support the government’s housing ambitions. In doing so, the programme is considering how to ensure that barriers to development are identified and overcome, including identifying and disposing of land, to bringing greater certainty over the timing and delivery of homes.

The Government is also looking at how to augment the current approach with a focus on place that will unlock specific sites in strategically important locations.

‘We need more new house builders, and existing builders to do more if we are to meet our housing supply ambitions. We also need to see greater innovation in the way homes are constructed,’ he said.

‘We can use Government land to help to deliver these goals. We are trialling approaches which aim to provide more land to Small and Medium Enterprise builders and see greater use of Modern Methods of Construction in homes built. We will monitor progress closely,’ he pointed out.

‘While sufficient land has been identified for 160,000 homes, it is clear that the ambition to release this land by 2020 will be achieved to a longer timeframe. Departments have agreed immediate actions to identify more land to bring into the programme and to accelerate disposals where possible to improve performance. Individual departments and Government as a whole must rise to the challenge, given the urgent need for more housing,’ he added.