Clark urges councils to ‘loosen grip on land’

1 Jun 15

Local Government Secretary Greg Clark has used the first meeting of the government’s dedicated housing taskforce to call on councils to ‘loosen their grip’ on land in a bid to free up enough sites to build 150,000 homes by 2020.

Ahead of the first meeting of the cross-Whitehall group, Clark highlighted that the Treasury’s Whole of Government Accounts showed councils held £108bn worth of land and buildings as assets in 2011/12.

He called on councils to follow the lead of central government, which in March released enough land for 103,000 homes to be constructed. The government’s Housing Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech, would require local authorities to establish and maintain a register of brownfield land suitable for housing development, including their own sites, which could then be used to boost construction.

‘The chance to own your own home should be available to everyone who works hard and aspires to,’ Clark said.

‘That is what a government for working people is about – making sure people have the security they need to build a brighter future for them and their families.

‘The scale of our ambition is clear – to release enough surplus and redundant public sector land for 150,000 homes over the next five years. I want to see departments going further and faster than before, starting right away, to loosen their grip on sites that are standing idle and to turn them over for house building.’

This target will require local authorities to use their property and estate better, Clark added.
‘Councils are significant landowners and town halls should be looking at their estate, particularly brownfield sites, and thinking about how they could make better use of their holdings by releasing land for new homes for their communities.’

Housing minister Brandon Lewis said housebuilding was at an eight-year high, with construction starts up 5% over the last year, but there was a need to maintain this momentum.

‘A key way we’re doing that is by looking again at the land government departments own, with enough land released over the last Parliament for 103,000 homes,’ he stated.

‘Over the next five years, we’re going to go further and faster – but where Whitehall is leading, town halls should follow, ensuring their land can be put to good use to deliver new homes across the country.’

According to figures published by the government today, the Ministry of Defence freed up enough land to build 38,661 homes in the last parliament, with 18,307 homes proposed on Homes and Communities Agency land and over 13,000 on sites owned by the Department of Health and NHS.

DCLG also highlighted that some councils were already taking action to allow land to be set aside for development. These included Cheshire West and Chester council, which is working to develop 15 acres of brownfield land in Ellesmere Port and a further 42 acres on the edge of town, which could provide 1,880 new homes.

Others included Surrey County Council, who are working with Spelthorne Borough Council and the Ministry of Justice to free up land for the provision of 300 new homes, and Bristol City Council, who are releasing land at the Ashton Gate Sidings for 200 new homes.

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