Putting public land to public use – a first step

We often talk about the housing crisis, and the unaffordability of homes and rent – but we rarely talk about the land beneath our homes, and its role in the crisis.

Across the country, a lack of affordable land is stoking the affordability crisis, forcing up the price of homes and rents. Despite this, and under the radar, the government has been pursuing a massive sale of public land – encouraging cash-strapped public authorities to sell their hospitals, courtrooms and car parks to the highest bidder to plug holes in their budgets.

This is a huge missed opportunity. Instead of off-loading land to private developers, by keeping the land in public or community control and building high quality, affordable homes we could actually start to solve the housing crisis.

Preview of public land sales map

This map, developed after discussion with local groups up and down the country, is our first step to bringing the public land sell-off to a halt, and ensuring that our land is used for the benefit of the community. It pinpoints where public land is for sale and identifies sites that have already been sold.

What information have we mapped so far?

  • Reports on the Government-led land sale provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). This was last updated in February 2017. A new report was due in July 2017, but has been postponed to 2018.
  • Land and property registers of individual public departments such as the Department of Health, Greater London Authority and Ministry of Justice.
  • Registers of public land put up for sale over the last five years on the Government Property Unit’s Electronic Property Information Mapping Service (EPIMS). The EPIMS register, updated daily, includes public land and property which is not being used and is therefore classed as surplus. There is a 40-day window during which other government agencies can propose new uses for the land. Once the property is outside this window, it appears on the register of public sector land as is available for sale.
  • We’ve supplemented these public records with our own research by scouring the development plans of some of the large sites already sold, to shed light whether the land sale was really in the public interest.

But this is just the start. What we’d like to include:

  1. Local authority land: Councils are required to keep an asset register, ideally, specifying land they’ve identified as surplus and what they intend to do with it. But because each local authority records this information differently, and to varying degrees of detail, compiling a coherent, up-to-date picture is a difficult task.
  2. Soft’ data from local residents: The best information about what is happening to land is gathered at a local level, by people living nearby. That’s why we’re working with community groups and campaign organisations across the UK to improve local land literacy and encourage communities to spot sites that aren’t being effectively used, creating their own land registers. In the months to come, we’ll include some of these local insights on our map.
  3. More detail so communities can take action: Though the DCLG monitoring of the land sale is a good start, there are details missing that we think are crucial to allow the public to decide whether the sell off is really in our interest. Namely, the value of the land sold, the level of affordable homes and homes for social rent provided, and who the land is being sold to. We’ll continue working with partners like Shared Assets to create a strong public mandate for better transparency over our land economy, for example through holding the Government to account over its commitment to open up and improve Land Registry data. 

Watch this space for updated versions of the map. We hope you make good use of it in the meantime. Props to Rob Levy in particular for his mapping skills, as well as Hanna Wheatley, Clifford Singer and Joe Beswick for getting the map live.

Sign up to our #SavePublicLand campaign to hear about future actions as well as new research and resources.

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