24 Sep 2015

Government housebuilding plan ‘wishful thinking, not policy’

The Government has no idea whether any houses have been built on public land sold off to housing developers since 2011, according to a damning report from the cross-party public accounts committee.

Although the Government has said that the large swathes of land sold off to developers in the last four years had the potential for 100,000 new homes, it has not counted the number of houses actually built.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee, the Government’s spending watchdog, said that it was “wishful thinking dressed up as public policy” to assume all these homes had been constructed.

Value for money?

The report into the home building scheme also warned that the ministers and officials did not know how much each of the 950 sites were sold for, or whether the sale price offered value for money compared to market rate.

It concluded that in future the government should apply a value for money test that includes “sale proceeds and the progress in the actual construction of new homes.

Taxpayers deserve to know how many homes have actually been built.”

The report also found that 15,000 potential homes in the government’s 100,000 figure were related to land sold before the programme for house building on public land began, and 10,000 were on land that had moved outside the public sector, such as that owned by the Royal Mail after privatisation.

Housing shortage

In Britain five million people are on waiting lists for social housing and many young people are struggling to get on the housing ladder as property prices continue to rise in key urban centres.

The Conservatives, throughout the coalition and into this majority government, pointed to increased sales of surplus public sector land as a key element of their strategy for tackling the acute housing shortage in the country.

However Meg Hillier, the Labour MP and chair of the public accounts committee (PAC), said the government should be “embarrassed by the failings uncovered by the PAC’s inquiry into land disposal”.

Alarming complacency

She said: “Its entire approach has been wishful thinking dressed up as public policy. It also demonstrates an alarming complacency over the future of an irreplaceable public asset.

“Many thousands of people desperately need homes and an effective land disposal programme should provide two significant benefits: much-needed housing and much-needed cash for the public purse.”

She added that the Government has “no record of how many homes have been built or are under construction”, the sale proceeds, or values of land in relation to current market value.

She said: “We are told enough public space has now been sold off to accommodate more than 100,000 homes at nearly 950 sites. Land disposed of by the Ministry of Defence alone could hold an estimated 39,000 properties.”

Dream of home ownership

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: “previous governments allowed valuable brownfield land to go unused whilst housebuilding levels crashed to their lowest levels since the 1920s.

“We have got the country building again and are releasing surplus government land to protect taxpayers from paying for their upkeep and build the homes families need.

“This has released enough land to build 109,000 new homes and we now want to go further and faster with land sales for a further 150,000 homes by 2020, helping people achieve their dream of home ownership.”