Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Government has 'long way to go' to fulfil land disposals pledge

The Public Accounts Committee report warns that there is still a long way to go to ensure Government departments will sell land with capacity for at least 160,000 new homes by 2020.

Report findings

The Committee recognises the progress made since it set out serious concerns in a Report on the previous government's land disposals programme in September 2015.

It welcomes a commitment by the Department for Communities and Local Government to monitor homes built as a result of land sales; the guidance and monitoring arrangements it has put in place, and greater clarity on other departments' roles and responsibilities.

Land sales need accelerating before 2020

However, the Committee is concerned about the speed at which land is being sold, meaning "the success of the programme will depend on accelerating land sales significantly in the remaining years to 2020".

It highlights the uncertainty over the potential for housing of many sights earmarked for sale in future—many of which are still being used to deliver public services.

The Committee also urges Government to make public all details of the programme "so that roles, responsibilities and accountabilities are clear and transparent thereby providing assurance to taxpayers that they will see the benefits of this programme".

Chair's comments

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said:

"There is a desperate need for new homes and public land is an irreplaceable asset.

Taxpayers clearly have a right to know whether they are getting a good deal from its sale and how many homes are being built as a result.

Our Committee laid bare some serious problems with the previous programme, not least that government had no coherent record of sale proceeds, nor did it record how many homes had been built or were under construction.

I described the approach as 'wishful thinking dressed up as public policy' and in implementing the new programme it was vital the current Government learned from past mistakes.

While we welcome measures taken by the Department for Communities and Local Government there is still much work to be done if it to deliver on its promise to taxpayers by the end of this Parliament.

Sluggish sales have hindered progress towards the 2020 target while questions continue to hang over the potential of many sights earmarked for sale and whether homes will be in the places people want to live.

Ultimately the public will judge the success of this programme on the basis of the homes built and the Government must make clear who taxpayers should hold to account for this.

Meanwhile our Committee will continue to take a close interest in the programme as it moves forward."

Background

In September 2015 the Committee reported on the previous government’s programme to "release enough public land to build as many as 100,000 new, much-needed, homes and support as many as 25,000 jobs by 2015".

It concluded the Department for Communities and Local Government could not demonstrate the success of the programme in addressing the housing shortage or achieving value for money.

In light of its Treasury Minute response to the Committee's Report, which failed to address its concerns adequately, and the start of the new programme in May 2015, the Committee recalled the Department for Communities and Local Government to give further evidence in January 2016.

Government commitment to "sell land with capacity for more than 160,000 homes"

The new programme and the government's commitment—"to sell land with capacity for more than 160,000 homes" by April 2020—is the subject of this Report.

The Department again holds overall policy responsibility for the new programme and for meeting the programme commitment by 2020.

Individual departments have been set their own target contributions, with the major contributors being the Ministry of Defence (land with capacity for 55,000 homes), the Department for Transport (38,000), the Department for Communities and Local Government itself (36,000) and the Department of Health (26,000).

Report summary

We recognise that the Department for Communities and Local Government and individual departments have made progress, since our report in September 2015, on managing the disposal of public land for new homes.

The Department has put in place guidance and monitoring arrangements for the 2015–2020 programme, although it has yet to publish these. It has also made clearer other departments' roles and responsibilities.

We are also pleased that the Department has now agreed to monitor the number of homes actually built; the programme is an important part of addressing the current housing shortage and the taxpayer has a right to know how many homes are built as a result of it.

All departments have made a slow start

However, there is still a long way to go to ensure that departments release enough land, by 2020, with the capacity for at least 160,000 new homes.

All departments have made a slow start in releasing land, and so the success of the programme will depend on accelerating land sales significantly in the remaining years to 2020.

For many of the sites identified for future sale there are a number of risks still to be addressed and it is far from certain that they will actually be made available for new homes, or when, and there is no contingency in the programme.

The Department for Communities and Local Government also needs to firm up the detail of its monitoring and reporting processes; to make all details of the programme public so that roles, responsibilities and accountabilities are clear and transparent thereby providing assurance to taxpayers that they will see the benefits of this programme.

Further information

 

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