Putting people in control of public land

The Government's own backyard presents an opportunity to tackle the UK's housing crisis

The Public Accounts Committee report released today is another damning account of the Government’s public land sell off.

The new homes rate on land sold remains appallingly slow – as big developers hang on to the newly acquired sites without building, cashing in on rising land prices.

This is a scandalous waste of public resources. But many people aren’t even aware it’s happening on their doorstep.

With the housing crisis running out of control — right in the Government’s own back yard is an obvious solution: building affordable homes on public land.

But instead of working with residents and local authorities to build the homes we want in the communities that need them — on land we already own — sites continue to be recklessly sold off to private developers and land speculators for a quick return.”

The result? More power is washed away to where it already lies — profit-chasing developers and rip-off landlords — and the public, who own the land, lose the little remaining control they have over a vital resource needed for meeting housing needs in their area.

Halt the fire sale of public land and build affordable homes

In an initial snapshot survey of sites being offered for fire-sale, the New Economics Foundation has identified 10 plots of publicly-owned land that could provide 4,631 good quality, low cost homes.

The 10 sites are:

  1. Brixton Prison
  2. Maiden Law Hospital, County Durham
  3. St George’s Hospital, County Durham
  4. Officers Mess within Connaught barracks site, Dover
  5. Tipner Greyhound Stadium, Portsmouth
  6. Site A Towergate, Milton Keynes
  7. Alt Bridge Park, Liverpool
  8. Chapel Street Site, Cornwall
  9. St Ann’s NHS Trust site, Haringey
  10. Land at Ingersley Vale, Cheshire

Making the land available for non-profit housing developments would begin tackling the housing crisis straight away. It would also bring a much better deal for taxpayers.

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St Ann’s Hospital, Haringey: one of the 10 identified sites /​Image credit: Alan Stanton via Flickr

Our calculations show that in just 20 years, developments of low cost rental homes on these sites – which could be owned by the residents as a cooperative or as social housing in partnership with local authorities — would become income generating.

These developments would still pay an agreed fee for the land, allowing departments to generate any income needed.

But crucially, they will save more money in the long run, as the housing benefit bill is reduced.

On these 10 sites alone – using the land for non-profit housing could reduce the housing benefit bill by £231 million over the next 30 years.”

Instead, the Government is choosing a short term windfall generated from land sales which will be spent back out of the public purse swiftly as the housing benefit bill subsidising rip-off rents on private homes will continue to soar.

Taking back control of public land

At some of the sites identified, local people are already demanding that the land is used to tackle their need for decent, low cost homes. The New Economics Foundation is embarking on a project to help more communities take control of the land around them before it is sold off.

Working in partnership with groups like Citizens UK, Acorn Community Organisers and Shared Assets, we’ll support communities to carry out Citizen Land Audits” on the sites, supplementing official records with local monitoring of land sites, plans and sales.

People will be supported to gather data on 1) where public land is being sold off locally 2) whether any genuinely affordable homes are being built on sites already sold 3) who should be involved in building local plans for developments on land not yet sold off.

Carrying out these audits is the first step. Crowdsourced records and land maps will empower more communities to put forward alternative plans for sites in their areas where the plans for private developments fall short.

Currently, land sales are tipped heavily in favour of private developers who can produce plans to show how they will maximise profit and pay hefty fees for the sites.

We want to help groups produce alternative plans and evidence why keeping the land in public or community ownership for affordable housing is a smarter move for the local economy.


Come along to our campaign building event 'Land for What?'


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