Government will clamp down on councils that refuse to release land for housebuilding

Housing minister John Healey promised to unveil a “new deal” for the housebuilding sector in the coming days designed to increase the supply of development land.

Healey told an audience at the Smith Institute in London last night that he wanted a “new deal for housebuilding, a new deal for private housebuilding, and a new deal on public land.”

He said this would include central targets for public agencies including councils to release publicly-owned land for housing development, the first time such targets have been introduced. He also said that the government would clamp down on councils who failed to identify a viable five-year supply of housing land through the planning system, implying that grants to those authorities would be cut.

He said: “The deal will include land release targets, and sharper incentives to release that land needed for housebuilding.” When pressed on this, he said: “We need a much tougher assessment of the accuracy of the local councils’ five-year land bank. And we will tie incentives and grant more tightly to that assessment.”

Councils receive £135m a year in Housing and Planning Delivery Grant, already tied to the identification of development land, but many have suggested the assessments supporting the landbank aren’t realistic.

The Planning Inspectorate will today report on the viability of councils’ identified five year land supplies, which have been affected as falling land values put some sites out of contention for development.

Healey also seemed to back Building’s Charter 284 campaign, by saying part of the new deal was to see reduced and “better managed regulation” of housebuilding.

The minister was not clear whether the measures would be officially announced as part of today’s budget or not, but either way they would need to be unveiled in advance of pre-election purdah, likely to kick in next week.

Ministers have called for the greater use of public land for housing development for years, but many agencies have been seemingly loath to give up their assets. The news comes as Healey is set to announce three more sites, possibly on Monday, for development in the government’s Public Land Initiative.

The news comes amidst pre-budget speculation that chancellor Alistair Darling is due to cut stamp duty on homes below £250k today in a bid to boost the housing sector.