Public assets should be used for the public interest. So why are we selling off public land to the highest bidder when we are in the middle of a housing crisis?

A few weeks ago the Department for Communities and Local Government released their first report monitoring activity on public land sold. It seems to have slipped by largely unnoticed, so we decided to take a look at the numbers. And guess what? Things really aren’t going to plan.

The sell-off is failing by its own measure: at the current rate, the government’s target of building 160,000 homes by selling off public land will take until 2032 to achieve, a full 12 years later than promised.

Terraced houses

Image credit: Anders Adermark

Even more concerning, it’s not providing homes that are actually affordable. Having done some digging into the development plans and permissions for public land sites sold to developers over the last six month, we found that only one in five of the new homes to be built will be ‘affordable.’ Even this figure is optimistic as it uses the government’s own widely criticised definition of affordability. As little as 7% of new homes are likely to be social housing, and in some cases developments comprise solely of luxury properties.

Yesterday I was at an event launching Shelter’s New Civic Housebuilding report, where a room packed with developers, planners, academics and housing charities were all in agreement that our land market is broken. So why are we ceding more control over it by selling off public land? The result so far is a slow drip of poor quality, unaffordable homes.

What is so frustrating is that it doesn’t have to be this way. In the Budget next week, the Chancellor could halt the sale of public land and instead empower communities themselves – along with local authorities, small builders and institutional investors like pension funds – to provide well planned, mixed developments with more affordable, better quality homes. Community-led and social housebuilding projects not only get the most value out of public land over the long term – they also give people more say over their surroundings and neighbourhoods.

In the meantime, we can get to work now. We have partnered with the Nationwide Foundation to help more communities have a real say over land use and housebuilding in their area.

Find out more.