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London Land Commission a ‘21st century Domesday Book for housing delivery'

Words: Laura Edgar
London / Shutterstock_68997331

The London Land Commission has “created a tremendous opportunity to make real inroads into London’s housing shortfall”, according to a report.

Earlier this year, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the establishment of a London Land Commission, a body to identify public sector land for development. They said it would help to ensure development on all brownfield land in London by 2025 and enable the city to meet its target of 400,000 new homes.

In the Budget, the chancellor committed £1 million a year to the commission.

A report – From Wasted Space To Living Place (pdf) - by London First and law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), says the commission gives the capital the “conditions to create a comprehensive system for assessing an disposing of surplus public land – a 21st century Domesday Book for housing delivery.”

But the report says it must have “real powers rather than becoming a talking shop”.

Furthermore, London First and BLP explained that nobody knows the amount of disused public land suitable for housing in London. Data shows £250 million worth of surplus land sits in four London boroughs, while the average London borough has £17 million worth of surplus land. The report adds that there is little incentive for many public bodies to commit to releasing surplus land for housing.

To ensure that the London Land Commission is successful, the reports recommends two principle objectives:

1. Set a realistic target date for working out what public land is surplus and is suitable and viable for housing. Most of the data collection should be complete before the 2016 London mayoral election.

2. A rolling yearly target should be established for moving surplus land for release. “A good, if arbitrary target would be 10-15 per cent of the land identified.”

London First and BLP say these objectives can be achieved by giving the Greater London Authority access to the government’s property and land asset database to assess what land is surplus in London.

Additionally, immediate progress can be realised if the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) agree on a protocol equivalent to the September 2024 DCLG/HCA protocol.

“This would provide a swift mechanism for transfer to GLA of surplus land held by government bodies where it is viable and suitable for housing development," adds the report.

Jonathan Seager, head of housing policy at London First, said: “Action is needed on unused and underutilised public sector because it’s estimated that 40 per cent of brownfield land suitable for development in the country remains in public sector ownership.

“Nobody yet knows how many homes this type of land could support and that is the very reason why the commission’s work is so important.

“However, it’s action that we need, so the end result must be more homes and not just a talking shop for Whitehall mandarins.”

Tim Pugh, partner at Berwin Leighton Paisner, added: “The mayor should be given full rein to energise housing delivery and achieve a more efficient and cost-effective use of surplus public land, to the benefit of the public purse.”