Housing White Paper was a missed opportunity to release land banks

Jonathan Sealey

March 7, 2017

Jonathan Sealey is chief executive of Hope Capital

The Housing White Paper was a missed opportunity for freeing up more land and really making sure that more homes were built.

There was a lot of talk with good intentions but very few cold hard facts of exactly what actions would be taken if things do not follow the government’s plan.

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The White Paper executive summary proclaims: “We will make it easier for local authorities to take action against those who do not build out once permissions have been granted.”

But there is no talk of how that will be done other than a council’s ability to name who has planning permission but has not built.

The White Paper says that development will occur “through greater transparency over who owns land and the options held on it”, but again there is nothing to say what will be done once these landowners have been identified.

This also does not tackle the number of large companies with land banks where they have bought land when it was going cheap and are now sitting on it waiting for it to rise in value before developing the plot.

What I had hoped to have seen were some real measures that would create a disincentive for the holders of landbanks to continue to sit on them undeveloped.

This could have included a rising tax for each year that the land intended for development was held with no good reason. This could work in the same way as the government introduced council tax for empty properties.

Of course measures such as this are not as simple as they sound as there can be very good reasons for a developer not starting a development when they intend to, or not completing the project – and finance is very often a key contributor to this.

It becomes yet more complicated if a land purchaser does not get planning permission in conjunction with buying the land as the government’s plans only extend to those with planning permission who have not either started development or finished it in a timely manner.

It is understandable why the government has restricted its measures to sites with planning permission but it does not help to free up all that land intended for development but being sat on – sometimes for decades.

Of course, if it was a simple solution it would have been in place many years ago, but the current White Paper, disappointingly, seems little more than a talking shop.

I sincerely hope that supporting measures will create the environment where developers will build the housing that the UK needs so desperately, but at the moment it appears as if there are few concrete measures that will actually make a difference.

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