I was interested to listen to an interview on Radio 4 You and Yours (Friday 28 Dec 2013) where the BBC’s Winifred Robinson discussed house building with Dr. Mark Clapson, a reader in History, University of Westminster who failed to identify that it is the Government via the NPPF that is driving the new house building pressure and focused on the building of new towns on a combination of brownfield and greenfield land as currently being investigated by the Labour Party, who are accusing the house builders of hoarding land.
Winifred Robinson then went on later in the programme to interview John Stewart, Director Economic Affairs, at the Home Builders Federation [HBF]. They talked about land banks and land hoarding by house builders. The basic response by Mr. Stewart was that HBF members don’t hold large land banks, implying that it is landowners not bringing forward land for sale that is the bottleneck. He admitted that house builders will only build affordable housing if they are forced to by local planning authorities with subsidy by central government and HBF members really only want to build market-priced housing.
The implication of this seems to be that under the NPPF, local planning authorities are being forced by central government to do the dirty work on behalf of the house builders of tracking down and warming up land owners, encouraging them to think they can make some money out of selling to house builders, thus increasing land supply without the house builders having to do it for themselves or dip into their supposedly non-existent land banks.
Then this got me thinking about others that might have a motive for hoarding land for commercial purposes, such as the major out-of-town retailers and shopping centre developers or the developers of the millions of square metres of unoccupied office space. Why don’t local planning authorities use the NPPF Local Plan process to approach this type of landowner and ask them to release some of their brownfield sites for housing? That might upset a few shopping carts.