It’s dirty work finding land

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.

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2 thoughts on “It’s dirty work finding land

  1. What I forgot to point out was an example of how our local authority weighs the pressure from commercial developers favourably against the community need for affordable housing.

    The decision of Guildford Borough Council [GBC] to approve the development of a supermarket with 168 surface parking spaces plus 48 mixed housing units with associated parking on the old Bellerby Theatre site near York Road, rather than pursue the original outline planning permission for between 70-80 affordable homes at 80 dph illustrates the determination of some councillors to see it as a zero-sum game where they trade-off the needs of those on the Guildford Borough housing register against business interests in the town centre and reinforces the impression of the duplicity of councillors when they accuse local interest groups of denying the town affordable housing and yet appear quite prepared to ravage the Green Belt with affordable housing.

    So, we end up with 18 affordable units, 3 ‘move-on’ units and 27 market-led units instead of between 70-80 affordable units in the town centre. Thus the potential balance of 50+ affordable units will be forced out of the town centre, with a GBC planning department apparently pre-disposed to put them in the Green Belt with the acquiescence of our elected representatives.

  2. Very interesting Nick and more so that the political discussion about land use now seems to be uncovering the facts that are behind the push to grab green belt and therefore more profitable land for development.
    I understood from friends in local govt that the reason the brownfield sites in the town were not identified for housing is just that….. ie they were owned by landowners who wish to use it for commercial development even where the old local plan may say different. The old Borough Council fought the battle against creeping office development for years..They no longer have governmental support .Permitted devt rules now allow offices to be converted into housing without formal PP but the land can often be the subject of restrictive covenants.These landowners are rich and can hold out. The political climate is now set to assist developers and landowners to make a sizeable profit at the expense of the community despite the fact that the brown field sites are there……There has to be a balance of fairness in society and we rely on the govt to fix and hold the scales.Sadly this govt is good on rhetoric of the Machiavellian type……………I am afraid the greenbelt is NOT safe in their hands whatever they may have said in the past

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