The 2015-20 Public Land for Housing Programme

Last week, a progress report on the programme revealed serious failings on behalf of the government in their attempt to release sufficient public sector land for housing.

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Whilst this failure can be attributed to a number of factors, it acts as a stark reminder of the difficulties involved in bringing housing land to the market and also raises serious questions over the feasibility of the government’s ambition to deliver 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s.

The programme is an important element of the government’s housing ambitions, and aims to release sufficient public sector land for 160,000 homes by the end of March 2020.

However, to date, there has only been sufficient land for approximately 38,000 new homes sold.

By the end of March next year, land to build just 65,000 homes (41% of the target) is expected to be released.

This is a welcome addition to supply, and whilst it was always an ambitious programme, its failure to deliver brings into sharp focus the tough realities of bringing housing land to the market.

The report identifies issues such as planning delays, land contamination and disposal for other uses as reasons for its slow progress.

These, and many others, are well known problems for those within the planning profession.

The promotion of housing sites from first inception to delivery is a protracted process, fraught with difficulties and uncertainty.

This is not assisted by the often-glacial progress of local plans or the difficulties in negotiating the planning application process, both of which are the domain of chronically under-funded and under-resourced planning departments.

It should be the government’s priority to address these issues and assist in streamlining the overall planning process from start to finish, if they hope to hit their future housing targets.

Whilst the government are taking an optimistic outlook on the programme, if they do not address a lack of core funding, there is only so far, the current strategy for releasing land can take them.

Kit Malthouse, the Housing Minister, has stated that; “Departments have agreed immediate actions to identify more land to bring into the programme and to accelerate disposals where possible to improve performance.”

A positive statement, but without the government willing to provide significant upfront funding to overcome barriers to delivery, the statement is principally empty and it remains unlikely for the government to meet the 160,000 programme target anytime soon.

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