English Partnerships will get first refusal on land released for sale by MoD property arm Defence Estates.
Defence Estates, the property arm of the Ministry of Defence, is to sell land to help the government meet its housebuilding target for south-east England.

The agency confirmed that it is in the process of selling sites for use in the regeneration of Thames Gateway, where deputy prime minister John Prescott is planning to build 120,000 houses by 2016.

Among the sites to be sold are an area of Chatham that is part of the £200m Royal School of Military Engineering PFI scheme, and a former air cadet site on Canvey Island, Essex.

A 1.4 ha site in Gillingham, Kent, has been bought by housebuilder David Wilson. However, the agency said it had an agreement to give first refusal to regeneration quango English Partnerships.

By releasing our land we can help the government drive for new housing

Peter Dunt, Defence Estates

Michael Richardson, secretary of Defence Estates, said: "We are giving first shout to EP. They have the opportunity to acquire it for open market value to use for affordable housing."

The agency's chief executive, vice-admiral Peter Dunt, said: "We are trying to rationalise our estate. We want to concentrate on fewer larger sites. By releasing land we can help the government's drive for new housing."

A spokesperson added that the agency was looking at other such property deals across its UK estate.

On the subject of the MoD's own construction work, Dunt added that Defence Estates was considering forming partnership with selected contractors. He said it had met the Debut consortium, which includes Bovis Lend Lease, and the Brey Utilities team, which includes the American contractor Kellogg Brown & Root.

Dunt said: "We are holding a series of pilot meetings with major contractors to explore how we can better work in partnership – partnership being the operative word. There needs to be a change in culture and working practices both for ourselves and the industry."

He stressed that Defence Estates intended to stick to its promises on delivering schemes. "It is very important for the industry that it has a programme to stick to. I am determined to stick to it."

Dunt said the body had set a target of reducing the length of the bidding process – a constant complaint of contractors – but added: "I cannot recall exactly what it [the target] is. It depends on the size of the project."

Dunt said some Defence Estates staff were assisting the British army operating in Iraq on building requirement in the country.