Press Releases

First mapping of public land sales reveals huge potential for affordable homes

Helping communities take control of sites before they’re sold off to private investors

In a snapshot survey of sites being offered for sale to private investors, the New Economics Foundation has identified 10 publicly-owned land sites which communities could instead develop as genuinely affordable homes.

This initial finding from a detailed project to map all public land available for affordable housing reveals the solution to Britain’s housing crisis may be in land already owned by those who need it most.

Analysis by the Foundation shows land across just 10 sites would provide 4,631 good quality, low cost homes needed to tackle the housing crisis.

At many of the sites identified, local people are already demanding that the land is used to tackle their chronic need for decent, low cost homes. This project is designed to help them take control of the land around them before it is sold off for short term profit by public authorities.

It guarantees a better deal for taxpayers, because any short term profit generated from private land sales would be quickly subsumed by rising housing benefit payments — much of which simply subsidises rip-off rents.

Building affordable, community-led housing on these 10 sites alone would reduce the housing benefit bill by as much as £231m in the next three decades.

The Foundation’s analysis follows new figures on the scale of the failure by developers to meet their targets for new homes on formerly public-owned land, building just 200 of a possible 9,000 homes.

The first 10 sites identified by the Foundation include:

  • Brixton Prison
  • St Ann’s NHS Trust site, Haringey
  • Maiden Law Hospital, County Durham
  • Officers Mess within Connaught barracks site, Dover
  • Alt Bridge Park, Liverpool

Taking control of local housing needs

This research marks the start of a joint project between the Foundation and community organisations like Citizens UK to map vacant sites across the UK, giving local communities the information they need to take control over their housing needs.

Each of these 10 sites has been earmarked for sale to private investors by Whitehall departments desperate for a short-term injection of cash.

But this is short-sighted. Giving communities control over the land and their housing needs would create a long-term revenue source for the area — and save on the UK’s overall housing benefit bill.

Across the UK there is a chronic shortage of good quality housing for local people and pent-up demand for more control over decisions being taken by officials, politicians and big developers, with no interest in building affordable homes.

Since the Government-led public land sell off began in 2011, no proper record of development has been kept, with many sites simply hoarded by developers — just 200 homes of a possible 9,000 were completed at the start of 2016.

Communities taking action now

To address the housing crisis, we need a transparent plan for using land that involves local residents and institutions. The public must know whether new homes are being built on land already sold, how many of those homes are actually affordable and how they can intervene in plans for sites not yet sold off.

The Foundation will be working with groups like Citizens UK to answer these questions for sites in local areas, building a crowdsourced map of public land sales across the country.

Residents will be supported to gather data, supplementing official records with local monitoring of land sites, plans and sales.

Carrying out these citizen’s audits is the first step. The crowdsourced land maps will enable communities to put forward alternative proposals for sites in their areas where private development plans fall short.

Groups across the country are already taking action, putting pressure on the Government to work with local authorities to make better long-term decisions.


Case study 1: Haringey residents and St. Ann’s Hospital

A campaign involving over 300 residents in the London borough of Haringey is focused on taking control of the St. Ann’s Hospital site.

Planning permission was granted in March 2015. Just 14% of the private housing development currently proposed would be classed as genuinely affordable.

Residents have instead planned a community-led development of the site which would provide genuinely affordable homes, plus facilities focused on the needs of local people, including mental health provision. The Foundation’s calculations show the site could provide 1,680 affordable homes.

Kathryn Medien, local resident, Haringey:

The plans for private development submitted here in Haringey proposed building only 14% affordable homes on site despite the local housing crisis reaching breaking point.”

We’ve put forward an alternative plan and are hoping to work with the NHS Trust and the local authority to make it happen. It’d be great if the New Economics Foundation can help more communities take on developers in this way, too many public land sites risk being sold off with no proper plan for affordable homes.”  


Case study 2: Maiden Law Hospital and St George’s Hospital, County Durham

The housing crisis is not limited to London and the South East. The North East has some of the highest levels of elderly people living alone and in poverty, with private renters also struggling with pressures on their living standards amid a student housing boom.

The Foundation’s calculations show the sites could provide a total of 1,330 affordable homes (267 on Maiden Law Hospital site, and 1,063 on St George’s Hospital site).

ACORN supports members to improve their neighbourhoods, and is active in the area.

Stephanie Mosley, ACORN Newcastle:

I don’t think local residents are aware that land, owned by us, is being sold off around us. In the north east we have a shortage of homes that are actually affordable for local people and that offer security. More and more families are living in high cost rented homes with no protection from eviction.

Giving land to private developers and hoping for the best surely means we’ll just get more of the same – homes we can’t afford to buy bought up by landlords and rented back to us at inflated rates. 


Marc Stears, CEO of the Foundation said:

This land is publicly-owned and desperately needed given the scale of the UK housing crisis.”

But it is also land now scheduled for a fire-sale by ministers who care more about getting cash into their departmental coffers than who they sell it to or what happens afterwards.”

Earlier this month, the New Economics Foundation launched its new agenda for people to really take control of the economy. This project aims to do just that — equipping communities with the tools they need to properly scrutinise local sales and development, and take control of how land is used in their areas.”

The government’s reckless sell-off can be stopped now if we persuade the departments in charge that disposing of sites for market value is short-sighted. Selling sites to private developers who will hoard land as prices rise and build properties to maximise their own profits will cost us all more in the long run.

Earmarking the land for affordable housing to meet the real needs of the community instead is a win-win: in just 20 years developments will become revenue generating.”

Once the sale of the land has been halted, we need to act again to ensure councils, housing associations and communities use their control in positive ways. It is not good enough for public land to sit idle and empty when so many families need a decent home in which to live.”

People need real control over the land they live and work on.”

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