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Government to release £10bn of public land for houses

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Enough land to build 100,000 new homes will be sold off by the public sector under plans to be announced by housing minister Grant Shapps tomorrow

A bank of previously-developed land more than twice the size of Leicester is to be released to housebuilders so they can accelerate the pace of construction and help solve the housing crisis, reported sister title Construction News.

Every Whitehall department with significant land banks will this autumn publish plans to relase the land, in a move the government hopes will create as many as 25,000 jobs,

Cabinet office minister Francis Maude is to be tasked with overseeing the plans as chair of the Public Expenditure Commitee.

Maude will go through each department’s plans to make sure every possible site is made available for housebuilding.

The amount of land released could deliver 100,000 homes by 2015, the equivalent of a 25 per cent annual boost at today’s rates.

Property speciailists from across government will also help each department and challenge them to release as much land as possible.

The communities and local government department has pledged to encourage local councils to follow Whitehall’s lead.

The plans will be supported by a map, due to be launched later this year, which will show land and buildings owned by public bodies in each area.

The government hopes its ‘build now, pay later’ deal – allowing housebuilders to only pay for the land once work has started – will head off cashflow problems and enable them to start building straight away.

Housing minister Grant Shapps will say: ‘As one of the country’s biggest landlords, the government has a critical role to play in making sites available for developers so we can get the homes this country needs built.

‘Today I can confirm an ambitious challenge across government to release enough land from Whitehall’s grip for 100,000 new homes across the country.’

Shapps will also announce land that will be available immediately through three different departments, including Communities and Local Government.

Some of the land available through them will be eligible for build now, pay later.

Shapps will say: ‘So we are already off to a flying start – it is now for developers to come forward, make the most of this unique opportunity, and help contribute to our country-wide efforts to help get the homes this country needs built.’


The immediately available land includes:

  • Fairmile, Oxfordshire – A 40 ha former hospital site owned by the Homes and Communities Agency, beside the river Thames in Cholsey, Oxfordshire. Fairmile is being transformed with the creation of 354 new homes including refurbished houses and apartments within the retained Grade II hospital buildings. There will be a mix of commercial, community and leisure facilities as well as landscaped grounds that will be made accessible to the public. The first new homes are due to be completed by developer Linden Homes this month and it is expected that the whole scheme will be complete by 2014. This will also serve as an early pilot for build now, pay later.
  • New Covent Garden Market – a 23 ha site, in Vauxhall, South London, will be redeveloped at no cost to tax payers to provide a new modern market, 2,300 apartments, a hotel, shops, a major grocery store and community facilities including a food industry training suite. The market hosts 200 businesses with more than 2,500 people employed on the site, the largest single employment site in Wandsworth.  New Covent Garden Market is part of the Nine Elms Opportunity area which includes Battersea Power Station and the future home of the American Embassy. To provide additional transport links for the area, which when completed will include 16,000 homes including affordable housing, the developers are funding London Underground’s Northern Line Extension. Covent Garden Market’s redevelopment project includes the start of the new Green Linear park which will link the Nine Elms Opportunity area and provide additional outdoor and community space for Londoners and visitors; and
  • Bath – The rationalisation of office accommodation owned by the Ministry of Defence will free up three sites at Foxhill, Warminster Road and Ensleigh, which will be brought forward for disposal over the next few years. Subject to planning, the 36 ha sites have the potential for more than 1,200 new homes. Bath & North East Somerset’s Core Strategy is going to Enquiry in Public in September 2011 and it is anticipated that the inspector’s report due in spring 2012 will confirm the allocations for development. 


Greg Mitchell, head of residential development at Turley Associates said: ‘Land supply is a real issue for developers and this move will be welcomed. However, the Government is rather ambitious in hoping that 100,000 new homes will be built by 2015.

‘While it is suggested that some sites will be sold with planning permissions attached, no doubt at a premium, developers will in the majority of cases need to apply for the relevant planning permissions, and on straightforward sites this can take up to 18 months. 

‘Many of the sites however will be in sensitive locations, close to military bases or on green belt sites for example, and this will undoubtedly slow the planning process down further. It is unrealistic to expect the current planning regime to approve 100,000 new homes within the 2015 timeframe.’

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