Chair and chief executive herald a new chapter for regeneration agency, as income from land sales doubles

Government regeneration agency English Partnerships has almost doubled its income from land sales in the past 12 months.

At the launch of its annual report on Monday the organisation will reaveal that it has made £215m from land, and that its investment programme grew from £410m to £483m in the year to April.

Speaking exclusively to Building before the launch, David Higgins, EP’s chief executive, and Margaret Ford, its chairwoman, emphasised that these successes opened a new chapter in EP’s career.

Ford said: “We’ve upped our game in the past 12 months. We have realised that in a lot of areas the thing that is missing is co-ordinating the provision and funding of infrastructure. That is very much a way forward for us I think.”

The emphasis on providing infrastructure will please the regeneration sector but it will come at a price. When asked if the “sustainable infrastructure fund”, or “roof tax”, levied on the rise in land prices in Milton Keynes was likely to be used elsewhere, Ford said, “Absolutely … I think it will become much more of a feature of all of our projects”.

We’ve upped our game. We have realised that the thing that is missing is infrastructure

Margaret Ford, EP chair

Higgins added: “It is inequitable that you can change farmland into £1.5m-an-acre housing land without expecting some of that windfall to pay for the infrastructure. It’s just not fair that the general public should pay that windfall for the landowners from their taxes.”

The step is exactly what economist Kate Barker recommended in her report on housing supply in March of last year; the Treasury is understood to be monitoring the results of what is effectively a pilot of Barker’s planning gain supplement.

Higgins said that landowners had “not been fighting us over this” as they hoped for EP to co-ordinate the appropriate infrastructure and funding to ensure the extra homes in Milton Keynes were built.

Higgins and Ford also defended the quango’s role in the sale of a former RAF college in Bracknell, Berkshire. EP stepped in to buy the site last year despite the fact that housebuilder Wilson Bowden was confident that it had all but agreed a sale. EP then sold the site to Wimpey almost a year later, a move that was criticised by the housebuilders as delaying rather than aiding the delivery of homes.

“We were unambiguous about what we did in Bracknell … we increased the level of affordable housing from 20% to 38% – now that’s value,” said Higgins.

It’s just not fair that the public should pay the windfall for the landowners from their taxes

David Higgins, EP chief executive

Ford added that although the deal would cost EP £16m because of the increased levels of affordable housing it was “money well spent”.

Higgins said EP “would be delighted to sit back and let the market get on with it, but the schemes we are involved with simply wouldn’t happen unless we were there”.

He did say, however, that what happened in Bracknell would not happen again and that if EP was interested in a publicly owned site it would purchase it before it came to the market.

Higgins said that the slowdown in the housing market ought to be treated by the government as an opportunity to boost the delivery of affordable housing. “What the private sector is attracted to is fee-based work. Why shouldn’t the government be in there with gap-funding or social housing grant, taking on some of the risk?” he said.

At the launch of its annual report on Monday EP also plans to announce the first tranche of land released as a result of its deal, completed in April, to buy 56 former NHS sites.