Planned regeneration agency to switch from buying land to helping landowners develop sites

Communities England, the government’s new housing and regeneration superagency, is to abandon the practice of English Partnerships (EP) of buying land.

Building has learned that Communities England will instead focus on helping landowners bring “difficult” sites to market.

The agency is to be formed from EP and the Housing Corporation and is due to be commence operations in 2009.

Trevor Beattie, EP’s southern director and one of the nine-strong “transitional committee” charged with designating what powers the agency will have, said: “We have in the past bought sites, such as the 96 NHS Estates properties, but there’s no real reason why we couldn’t simply work with landowners to masterplan and remediate sites as well as taking care of all the legal requirements. Both parties could then share in the uplift in value.”

It is hoped that this approach will allow Communities England to concentrate on bringing land forward for development – particularly public sector land.

EP’s decision was welcomed by housebuilder Wilson Bowden which had protested bitterly at the regeneration agency’s purchase of a 44ha former RAF site in Bracknell in 2004.

Ian Robertson, chief executive of Wilson Bowden, which is being bought by Barratt, said: “This removes the element of confusion that existed as a result of EP operating in the market and buying sites that the private sector felt it could develop itself.”

Beattie also revealed that Communities England will require all the homes it funds with its £4bn annual budget to meet the six-star level set out in the recent Code for Sustainable Homes by 2013 – three years ahead of the timetable mooted by communities secretary Ruth Kelly.