Chancellor advocates greater transparency regarding surplus public land

Fri 7th December 2012, 3:09 pm

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has called on local authorities to be more transparent regarding their information on land and assets.

In his Autumn Statement, he backed Lord Heseltine’s recommendation that the Government Property Unit should work with local authorities to publish details of surplus or derelict publicly owned land in ePIMS.

Local authorities and GPU should work together to find the best way of publishing surplus land data in a single database, he said.

Furthermore, to support housing and commercial development, the Government will invest £474m in England's local infrastructure.

Around £225m will be used to accelerate the development of large housing sites, providing over 50,000 new homes. £190m will be spend to derisk public land to enable quicker disposal.

The Government will also provide £100m to bring forward public surplus land for development, funds which will be provided to the Homes and Communities Agency to acquire surplus land owned by public sector agencies.

Commenting on the statement, Samuel Blake (director at BNP Paribas Real Estate who has previously worked at the GPU and is familiar with the ePIMS database) said: 

"ePIMS has been used for years to assist the coordination of the Civil Estate, logging vacant offices in order to match them to government needs.

"Whilst it has been proposed for a while, it can only be good news that this system will now be used to provide a comprehensive register of surplus public sector land.

"It will be interesting to see how much there is in total, and this will assist the Government in assessing how housing targets can be delivered."

Commenting on the proposed funds to accelerate development, Blake said: "In terms of funding to build more homes, whilst the figures in the Autumn Statement are relatively modest compared to the potential need, funds should be spent wisely, helping to unlock sites that would not otherwise come forward.'

"Otherwise, as we have seen in the recent past, there is a risk that financial support provided to housing associations simply goes into land value, allowing them out bid (and crowd out) private sector housebuilders, without necessarily delivering more houses at a higher rate."

"Funding to prepare public sector land for development is extremely useful, and is likely to have the most 'bang for buck' by directly boosting supply of land."

Peter Ralph (director of business development at Peter Brett Associates) said: "We welcome the proposal in the autumn statement to create an open database of publicly owned land.

"By creating a comprehensive schedule it should be possible to identify "quick win sites" and plan budgets for longer term strategies where significant infrastructure funding is required."

"Working with our public sector partners it is clear many do not have a clear mandate for maximising the regeneration benefits of their land holdings, either  by disposal or through joint venture working."

"Sitematch London has provided a conduit for achieving this; by working with the GLA, London Boroughs and other property stakeholders it goes some way to already delivering the objectives suggested in the Government’s Autumn statement."

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