The UK government has announced that it is releasing its grip on unused public land and that Whitehall departments have released enough brownfield land to build 68,000 homes and support 135,000 jobs.
It has revealed that over 430 sites have been sold across the country and has urged local councils to follow the lead set by central government by making their unused land available for development.
Peter Vaughan, Director at global architecture, urbanism and design practice Broadway Malyan, said: “Councils need to take responsibility and re-configure their land and property assets to best serve the needs of the community.
“Our experience is that the vast majority of public sector assets have long been under managed, resulting in under use of valuable resources and poor facilities for employees and public alike.
“We also see plenty of inefficient publicly-owned buildings that could be disposed of with the proceeds used to fund local services and realise better and more efficient council buildings – such as through single flexible public sector hubs.
“This will release prime development opportunities, clear up old dinosaur public buildings that are totally unsustainable, spur construction activity to boost the economy and lay the foundations for better and more efficient services and built assets.”
Broadway Malyan is supporting a number of schemes that involve local government-owned assets, such as under the existing Local Asset Backed Vehicle (LABV) framework, which aims to deliver modern public facilities through a combination of capital receipts from local authority land disposals and private sector finance.
One example is the new build library and community facility named ‘The Curve’ in Slough, which is due to open in 2015 – the first phase of Slough Borough Council’s £1 billion, 15-year regeneration programme, being delivered through the Council’s LABV joint venture with Morgan Sindall Investments, which is providing project funding and investment expertise.
The Government has also announced that since January 2014 the new ‘Right to Contest’ has enabled the public to challenge the government about land and property they feel could be put to better use and ask for it to be sold.
Peter Vaughan said: “There must be concern that in certain locations the new policy could be counter-productive in terms of housing delivery.
“Local well organised community groups could use these powers to argue that emerging housing schemes on private sector land, often green fields, should be stalled pending the outcome of the review process – a process potentially instigated by the community group.
“This is worrying given the current housing delivery crisis in the UK and need for all appropriate sources of housing supply to be considered and supported within the context of the National Planning Policy Framework’s presumption in favour of sustainable development.
“Moreover, while government land may be deemed surplus to operational requirements, this should not be a mandate to simply argue that it should all be used for housing development despite the national shortfall.
“Good and sustainable planning relies upon identifying housing, jobs, leisure and community uses in locations that are well related to one another. Ad hoc disposal of sites for housing development outside of any well thought-out planning framework or plan will result in isolated and detached communities without the necessary social or community infrastructure to support them.”
Earlier this year the government also launched the strategic land review to deliver at least £5 billion land and property disposals between 2015 and 2020. The review will identify where further public sector land can be disposed of to support housing and economic growth. This exercise will report at Budget 2014.
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