housebuilders have cautiously welcomed the announcement that the government is to release hundreds of acres of public sector land for housing

Speaking at the launch of a joint Treasury and ODPM pamphlet entitled Extending Home Ownership on Wednesday, chancellor Gordon Brown and deputy prime minister John Prescott said English Partnerships was reviewing 700 surplus sites with a view to releasing more land for development.

The sites, currently in the hands of 35 government bodies, including the Ministry of Defence, the Highways Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department of Health, comprise just under

3600 ha of land. EP has already bought 96 surplus NHS sites that will deliver 15,000 affordable homes by 2010.

Ian Robertson, chief executive of housebuilder Wilson Bowden, described the move as “good news”, but added: “Now we are waiting for the government to deliver by freeing up the planning system.”

The Home Builders Federation also tempered its welcome with a note of caution. Robert Ashmead, its chief executive, said: “While we must tackle genuine affordability issues, we also need to supply sufficient homes of all kinds if the market is to work properly and create sustainable communities. The government must commit to the implementation of the Barker review.”

Bill Williams, Taylor Woodrow’s director of strategic development, said: “We welcome the news that the government is releasing more land for housing, but we need the planning processes to be speeded up in order to deliver.”

Other measures outlined in the Extending Home Ownership pamphlet include:

  • Confirmation that the government will consult over the summer on amending PPG3 in line with the recommendations of the Barker report
  • A commitment to respond to Barker’s other recommendations by the end of the year
  • The extension of the Homebuy scheme, a form of low-cost home ownership
  • Joint private/public funding of equity loans to homebuyers, to enable them to buy a stake in private homes.

Speaking at the launch, Brown said: “We are determined to build on the 1 million more home owners since 1997 to reach 2 million by 2010.”

The Prince of Wales is expected to challenge John Prescott over his plan to demolish tens of thousands of homes to make way for modern properties. In his most outspoken attack on the government for several years the Prince will condemn the scheme, which will involve bulldozing homes in the North and Midlands, including many Victorian terraces.