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Clark presses councils to let go of surplus land

Words: Laura Edgar
Greg Clark

Communities secretary Greg Clark is urging Whitehall departments to “loosen their grip” on empty sites that could be released for new housing.

Clark was speaking ahead of the government’s dedicated housing taskforce’s first meeting, saying his target is to release enough land for 150,000 homes by 2020.

As well as pressuring Whitehall departments, the communities secretary is calling on English councils to look at the land that they have and use some of the sites - particularly brownfield ones - to provide new homes in their communities.

This follows the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that councils will be required to create and maintain a register of brownfield land suitable for housing development, including their own estates.

Clark said: “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.

“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 added: “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.”

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has welcomed the move to get more public sector land into housing use.

Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, explained that it should be brought forward through the planning process, "including looking at the property needs of alll public services in a locality and looking for ways to consolidate them."

It would, Blyth continued, "hugely help if public sector land was made available at lower prices than private sector land. In the past long negotiations over necessary infrastructure and affordable housing on “public” land  have severely delayed housing delivery.”

The department for communities and local government and the homes and communities agency have, according to the government press release, identified 150 sites that could accommodate 14,000 new homes, in addition to the 146 released in the past five years.

Some councils are already releasing land. Bristol City Council has set aside land at Ashton Gate Sidings for 200 new homes, while Surrey County Council is working with Spelthorne Borough Council and the Ministry of Justice to free up land for the provision of 300 new homes.