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Public development corporations should have the power to create new towns

Words: Laura Edgar
Social value / Shutterstock: 144653342

A future Labour government should establish public development corporations that have the power to buy and develop land in the public interest to create new towns, says a report by party advisers.

The public development corporations would not replace private developers altogether. Instead, they would act as the “prime mover” in the land market, and work with planning authorities, Homes England and landowners to prepare sites for housing, new towns, garden cities and urban regeneration.

After the land has been assembled, the public development corporations would prioritise small and medium-sized firms to construct the homes, with the housebuilders competing on the basis of quality and design. It is hoped that the success or failure of the private developers would be determined by quality rather than how a speculative market is navigated.

The recommendation forms part of Land for the Many, a report commissioned by the Labour Party.

The report authors also suggest that the Land Compensation Act should be reformed so that development corporations and other public authorities can acquire prices closer to its current use value, instead of its potential future residential value. “This could reduce the cost of building genuinely affordable housing by up to 50 per cent,” the report maintains.

To address the imbalance of power in the planning system, namely that “deep-pocketed developers” have “excessive influence” over local decision-making, local authorities should be able to set and vary planning fees. They should be able to increase them for applications raised more than once or when advice or policy has been ignored.

Public land should not be sold off to the highest bidder. The report says local authorities and the government should use the land they own to deliver affordable housing, as well as to meet various social needs.

To make sure that under-represented groups are involved in the planning process, and to secure citizens' right to participate in plan-making and major infrastructure planning a community participation agency should be created.

Other recommendations in the Land for the Many include:

  • Community ownership and control

- A Labour government should support the creation of Community Land Trusts and Community-Led Housing.

- A Community Right to Buy based on the Scottish model should be introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

  • Research and policy development

- Bodies modelled on the Scottish Land Commission should be established in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to research issues surrounding ownership, use and control of land, and to propose new polices to address these issues.

  • Ending the Buy-to-Let ‘frenzy’

- Tenancies should be open-ended.

- Annual permissible rent increases should be capped.

  • Land price stabilisation

- A Labour government should set a goal to stabilise house prices so that wages can catch up and the house-price-to-income ratio can fall.

  • Transparency

- All information about land ownership, control, subsidies and planning should be published as open data. There should be free and open access to data about who owns what.

- There should be a full register of planning permissions, including developers’ commitments.

The authors of Land for the Many have contributed in a personal capacity in their own time. The work does not necessarily reflect the positions of the organisation they work for. The authors are: George Monbiot (editor), Robin Grey, Tom Kenny, Laurie Macfarlane, Ann Powell-Smith, Guy Shrubsole, and Beth Stratford.

Land for the Many can be found here.

Image credit | Shutterstock