Accelerating the Release of Land for Building

by Mark Johnston

A growing and ageing population necessitates building more homes, including affordable ones. Therefore the government is getting the housing market and in particular new house building moving again through delivering proposals that are outlined in ‘laying the foundations: a housing strategy for England’.

House building has been at its lowest levels since 1924 resulting in an acute housing shortage. Tackling the sustained shortfall in housing development is a key objective of the ‘plan for growth’ which was published by the government in March 2011.

In June 2011, the housing minister announced government plans to release public land capable of delivering up to 100.000 new homes. It is estimated that 40% of land suitable for development sits with in public sector banks.

“as one of the country’s biggest landlords, the government has a critical role to play in making sites available for developers, so that we can get the homes this country needs built”, stated housing minister, Grant Shapps.

The government has over time introduced a range of initiatives to encourage the disposal of land held by central government departments.

The houses and communities agency (HCA) led the way and published their detailed land disposal strategy. As a result of this many major land holding departments such as, the Ministry of Defence, Department of Health, Department for Transport and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have also made a commitment to release their surplus land. This in itself has the capability of delivering at least half of the land needed for the government’s ambition.

Historically some departments have been slow to release their land or have faced severe restrictions due to complex planning and land issues.

Planning is currently divided in to 2 categories: Brownfield and Greenfield.

Brownfield sites are with in town or city boundaries’, here building work is easier to gain permission for and more than often encouraged.

Greenfield sites are green spaces, often countryside; this is typically protected from development with out special permission.

The focus throughout the past decade has been on developing Brownfield sites however, developers are now arguing that this does not provide enough land and therefore they insist that  more green land should be opened up to new development.

Public sector land, like all land, is subject to the standard local planning process and

the planning process has often been cited as a barrier to accelerating the release of land.

Restrictive red tape that holds back construction and the house building industry is to be removed and the bureaucratic planning system is to be streamlined and simplified.  

In light of this the government has embarked on an ambitious set of reforms to ensure it better supports sustainable growth with in the UK. These reforms will mean that local authorities should make every effort to identify and meet their housing needs, in order for a sound local plan to be put in to lace.  Meaning that applications for new developments should be approved without delays providing they are in accordance to the plan.

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