The Government today announced its plan to release public land with the aim of building 100,000 new homes. In reality the news, if that is what it is, has been dribbling out for some while.
Few were opposing the policy of releasing swathes of redundant public land for housing and other development. The previous administration was keen to release land too.
But politicians like a good headline. And a sound bite like “I am today announcing plans that will lead to 100,000 new homes and 25,000 new jobs” is irresistible.
Re-announcing, repackaging and re-releasing existing plans are not new in Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament.
To my knowledge CrossRail remained in the politicians’ top hat for about half a century before ground was dug and was regularly drawn out like a rabbit when the Government of the day needed to show its commitment to improving the nation’s or the Capital’s creaking infrastructure.
So unless I have missed something crucial, what we have here is an awful lot of excitement about something that was pretty well going to happen anyway.
True departments may have been dragging their feet and needed a chivvy, but the three sites highlighted in the press release were in the pot for redevelopment anyway and have been for some while.
Here are some links to New Covent Garden, Fairmile and Fox Hill. And if you go to the Homes and Communities Agency press release where is a bit more on the land up for sale you also see just how far down the line many of the sites already are.
It is also true that there will now be a new map showing where the public sector owns land and buildings – this is to be applauded, if only in the name of transparency.
True too, there is an incentive in the sales approach taken by the Government with the “Build Now, Pay Later” deal on offer to house builders or developer that take on the sites. So, this may nudge a bit more building than might otherwise have happened.
But cut away the window dressing and it still leaves the real question of whether releasing land will lead to many more homes being built than would otherwise have been built.
That answer is, probably, no.
Firstly, let’s face it house builders have rather longer landbanks than they have for a long while. They have on a rough count about six years worth of consented land at current production.
Admittedly not all of the land is in top locations and land in the hottest locations may attract new potential buyers.
But in reality, land is not currently the main constraint for most of the volume builders. So, unless the majority of the homes are to be built with public funds, which is not going to happen, there is little to suggest we will see a significant increase in the number of homes built.
The real challenge for house builders is to find buyers.
There is of course another major question that should be considered. This might be thought of as the Brown’s gold question. When is it in the nation’s best interest to sell the land?
Will this turn out to be seen as a fire sale of the nation’s assets?