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RTPI Planning Convention 2018: History can help us capture the value of land


The issue of land value capture has moved to centre stage. But finding solutions might not be as straightforward as we like to think, says Shona Glenn

Since development rights were nationalised in 1947, a debate about how to capture the uplift in land value associated with planning permission for the public benefit has waxed and waned.

Despite several attempts, the issue has never been satisfactorily resolved. The shortage of affordable housing now afflicting parts of the UK means that this debate is well and truly back in the ascendant – but in looking for solutions it is important that we learn from the past.

To help us to do this the Scottish Land Commission has been working with Heriot-Watt University, looking at previous attempts to capture land value in the UK. A key conclusion from this work is that previous bids failed largely owing to the absence of political consensus. With politicians of all persuasions talking up land value capture, this may now be easier to achieve than in the past.

“Previous attempts have failed largely owing to the absence of political consensus”

But to secure widespread support perhaps we should be asking a different question. Instead of asking how we capture the value of land (from someone else) maybe we should be asking how we deliver sustainable communities in places that people want to live and at prices they can afford, because that’s something everyone can get behind. That is why the next phase of our work will focus on exploring different models for funding enabling infrastructure.

Much of the recent debate about land value capture has centred on compulsory purchase and compensation. The ability of public authorities to acquire land at or near existing use value has underpinned some of the more successful attempts to capture land value both in the UK (new towns) and elsewhere in Europe.

Many commentators believe that relatively simple changes to compensation rules could make all the difference today. Our investigations so far suggest that the solution is probably more complicated. This could be part of the answer in parts of the UK, but this is no silver bullet.

In many parts of the UK, market demand for housing is low, so there isn’t much value to capture. Finding answers that work for these areas will be a key component of our work on land for housing and development over the next few years – and will be vital if we are to make the most of Scotland’s land.

Making this work will require public authorities to take a more active approach to placemaking than has been the norm for many years. But it must be properly resourced. Previous schemes to capture land value that have been under-resourced have failed.

Shona Glenn is head of policy and research – land for the Scottish Land Commission


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