Government land disbursement project off to “slow start”

12 Jul 16

The Department for Communities and Local Government has achieved only a small fraction of its target to release enough public land to build 160,000 new homes by 2020, the National Audit Office has said.

Ten months into the five-year programme set out by the government in the Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015, only 5% of the target has been achieved, with land for 8,580 homes being disbursed.

Although land with capacity for another 4,853 homes (3%) has been disbursed, it is not clear whether this will be developed for housing.

A report from the NAO said that, to meet the target, the DCLG, which is leading the project, would have to dispose of more land in each of the next four years than it managed in any year of the previous disbursement project.

Auditors noted that additional land had been identified with capacity for 104,461 houses (65% of the programme), but that around half of this was on what it deemed to be ‘high-risk’ sites – locations with least one issue that would prevent contracts being exchanged by 2020. Some of these sites are in fact still in use by the government.

NAO head Amyas Morse acknowledged that progress had been made, but highlighted that the programme has had “a relatively slow start” and that the DCLG had a long way to go to meet the targets.

After the first disbursement scheme, which ran from 2011-2015, the NAO reported that the department was not able to demonstrate how it had helped to mitigate the housing shortage, or had provided value for money.

In line with subsequent NAO recommendations, each Whitehall department was issued with guidelines by DCLG in regard to its responsibilities under the scheme and the programme’s overall targets in achieving value for money. The publication date of this report has been set back from spring 2016 to summer this year.

Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, was critical of the DCLG’s refusal to make the guidelines and targets public. She said: “I am very disappointed that [DCLG] has not made sufficient progress on the committee’s recommendations.”

She added that although the department has agreed to publish guidance on how it will ensure value for money “they have simply failed to deliver on this and as a result, there is still no way of knowing whether taxpayers are getting a good deal from the sale of their land”.

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