Public land should be used to generate income for councils, say property chiefs

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has today released a report criticising the Department for Communities and Local Government’s handling of the disposal of surplus public land.

However, a more business-minded approach to land disposals – where old buildings and surplus property can be used to generate income – would be a far better way to encourage councils currently holding up the process.

Today’s report states that despite the DCLG claiming that the programme under discussion had brought forward enough land to provide 109,950 new homes, in fact, “the Department cannot assess whether the programme delivered value for money for the taxpayer.”

The committee went on to recommend that going forward the DCLG, “must apply a broader test of value for money”.

While making sure that taxpayers receive value for money is important, the reason there’s an insufficient supply of public land for development is because local councils have ignored demands to reveal suitable brownfield sites in their areas.

The government’s housing manifesto called on local authorities to identify all brownfield sites in their areas and to grant planning permission on 90 percent of these sites by 2020. However, around half of all councils have yet to do so.

Charles Mills, partner at Daniel Watney, said:

“Of course it’s important that government departments are held to account, but the committee is too focused on money. It’s not solely about capital receipts but also about actually bringing land forward and actual delivery. The most practical way to do this is to use a number of developer partners on large sites. In other cases we’ve seen councils sitting on their hands and refusing to help improve the supply of land. This must change.”

Martin Bellinger, chief operating officer at Essential Living, said:

“Defining ‘best value’ solely by the size of a capital receipt can be misleading, not least because many councils would be better off increasing their long-term income rather than selling off the family silverware altogether. Building homes for rent using public land or buildings and sharing the profits with councils is one real solution that more authorities should consider.”