PAC labels government’s brownfield housing plan wishful thinking

24 Sep 15

A government target to build over 100,000 homes on public land represented “wishful thinking dressed up as public policy”, the Public Accounts Committee has said today, and ministers have no record of how many have been built.

Analysing the progress the government has made towards the target for construction of 100,000 homes on disused public land by 2015, the committee found the Department for Communities and Local Government could not assess whether the programme delivered value for money.

DCLG holds policy responsibility for the target, first set in 2011, as a whole. Individual departments are then responsible for identifying surplus land, which is collated by the Homes and Communities Agency.

DCLG data shows that, by the end of March 2015, government had disposed of 942 sites comprising sufficient land for an estimated 109,950 homes. The biggest contributors were the Ministry of Defence (enough for around 39,000 homes), the Homes and Communities Agency (around 21,000, on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government) and the Department of Health (around 15,000).

However, MPs concluded DCLG did not collect information on the actual number of houses built or under construction, the proceeds from land sold, or whether the parcels of land were sold at market value. Instead, to determine success of the policy, it had focused only on a notional number for ‘potential’ capacity for building houses on the land sold.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said the government should be embarrassed by the failings uncovered by the committee.

“Its entire approach has been wishful thinking dressed up as public policy. It also demonstrates an alarming complacency over the future of an irreplaceable public asset,” she said.

“Many thousands of people desperately need homes and an effective land disposal programme should provide two significant benefits: much-needed housing and much-needed cash for the public purse.

“Yet the government has no record of how many homes have been built or are under construction. It has no record of sale proceeds, nor their value in relation to prevailing market prices. There is no means of knowing whether taxpayers are getting a good deal from the sale of their land.”

As Whitehall departments had been instructed to draw up plans to release land for up to 150,000 homes between 2015 and 2020 as part of the Spending Review, MPs urged DCLG to use a broader test of value for money. This must include sale proceeds and progress in actual construction of new homes, they stated.

“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,” the report concluded.

Responding to the report, a DCLG spokeswoman said that the last Labour government had allowed brownfield land to go unused. “We have got the country building again and are releasing surplus government land to protect taxpayers from paying for their upkeep and build the homes families need.

“This has released enough land to build 109,000 new homes and we now want to go further and faster with land sales for a further 150,000 homes by 2020, helping people achieve their dream of home ownership.”

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