Gov’t rapped for acute failure over land disposal

Gov’t rapped for acute failure over land disposal

The government’s land disposal programme has been wishful thinking dressed up as public policy, with no record to show homes were built on the sold-off land, a damning Public Accounts Committee report has shown.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee of public accounts, said the government had no record of whether taxpayers had benefited from its programme, which was launched four years ago.

She said: “It demonstrates alarming complacency over the future of an irreplaceable public asset. Thousands of people desperately need homes and an effective programme should provide significant benefits: much-needed housing and much-needed cash for the public purse.”

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In a 16-page report, Disposal of Public Land for New Homes, the committee questioned whether the department for communities and local government achieved value for money from the sale of the sites.

It accused the department of adopting a “very wide interpretation” of what it could count towards achieving its target and castigated it for not being able to demonstrate its success in addressing the housing shortage.

In 2011, the then housing minister Grant Shapps announced a plan to “release enough public land to build as many as 100,000 new, much-needed, homes and support as many as 25,000 jobs by 2015.”

Data from DCLG showed that, by the end of March 2015, it had disposed of land with capacity for an estimated 109,950 homes, across 942 sites.

“The government cannot tell us how many of these homes now exist – or will ever exist. Instead it appears simply to have hoped huge numbers of houses would spring up across the country.

“It is an insult to taxpayers that the potential economic benefits arising from the sale of public land should be put at risk by such short-sighted government mismanagement,” Ms Hillier, the Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch said.

This came as a 18-A government briefing paper published on 18 September, Starter Homes for Young First-time Buyers, recognised the need to build 250,000 homes a year to avert a crisis and said both the previous and current government had taken measures to increase production and accessibility for buyers.

Measures included launching a £26m fund with additional £10m committeed to buy brownfield land for new starter homes.

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David Wilson, managing director of Tyne and Wear-based NE Money, said: “It is a serious problem that we simply are not building enough homes. This lack of supply pushes house prices up, which pushes up deposits and FTBs out of the market.

“Unless we increase the amount we need to build, to meet the demand of 250,000 homes a year, we will permanently be in this boom and bust environment.”