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Government ‘unlikely’ to meet public land sell-off targets

The government is unlikely to meet its own target of selling off enough publicly-owned land to build 160,000 homes by next year (2020), according to a new report.

The report by the National Audit Office (NAO) claims the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) expects departments to have released enough land for around 65,000 homes by 2020, against a previously-set target of at least 160,000.

According to the NAO report, the government currently does not expect to reach the 160,000 target until after 2025. It adds that the MHCLG estimates that some 40,500 homes have been ‘brought to market’ since 2010 on land released under the previous and current programmes.

In January 2016, the-then housing minister Brandon Lewis announced plans to sell off 600 acres of surplus public sector land in order to build 160,000 new homes.

‘I now want to see developers getting shovels in the ground as quick as possible and build the homes hard-working people want and deserve,’ said Mr Lewis back in 2016.

The NAO’s analysis shows that of the 1,500 sites sold between April 2015 and March 2018, 176 were sold for £1 or less.

Most of the sales involved small properties but five transactions involved sales of sites bigger than 10 hectares.

But the report also reveals that the government currently expects to achieve its target of raising £5bn from the sale of surplus land by March 2020, with two transactions responsible for more than £1.8bn of the total. Between April 2015 and March 2018, the programme had generated £2.48bn in proceeds.

The largest single sale by value during that period was the Old War Office, which the Ministry of Defence sold in 2016 for £357m.

Network Rail completed the sale of the railway arches in February 2019, generating proceeds of £1.46bn.

‘My committee has been following the government’s progress to release enough public land by 2020 to build 160,000 new homes,’ said the chair of the public accounts committee, Meg Hiller.

‘Not only is its programme highly unlikely to meet its target by 2020, but it is also unable to provide basic information about the number of affordable homes, and homes for key workers, being built. It is also unacceptable that the government does not have a national picture of where the proceeds from the land sales have gone.

‘The government must get its act together if it is to deliver much needed new homes,’ added Ms Hillier.

The full report by the National Audit Office is available to read here.

Photo by Free-Photos (Pixabay)

Jamie Hailstone
Senior reporter - NewStart

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