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17.07.15

DCLG criticised for failing to monitor housebuilding

MPs have been told that the DCLG did not monitor housebuilding after it released land for development due to fears about the “burden” being put on developers. 

Giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee this week, Melanie Dawes, permanent secretary at the DCLG, said that in the future the Department will “improve its monitoring so that we can provide assurance that it is not a mirage and that we have not sold the land off for the wrong reasons”. 

The evidence session followed an NAO report on the disposal of public land for new homes, published in June, which investigated the previous government’s progress in meeting its target “to release enough land to build as many as 100,000 new, much-needed, homes and support as many as 25,000 jobs by 2015”.

Dawes said: “We set out to achieve land disposals towards new housing on a scale that had not been achieved before. 

“The quantum of housing that was likely to be built on the land that was released was in excess of the target we set ourselves of 100,000. The final number was just under 110,000.” 

But Meg Hillier MP, Labour chair of the committee, said that the DCLG did not know whether land was being sold at the right price, how many homes should have been built and how many homes have been built, and “we will not know for some time – perhaps before the end of the decade – whether the target has been met”. 

In defence of the department, Dawes said that firstly DCLG did release land for the development of 100,000 new homes, something the NAO confirmed. 

“The second question is whether all those individual sales or releases of land were done in accordance with value for money tests,” she said. “Those decisions were taken by individual accounting officers in the Departments concerned. We never sought as a programme – and I don’t think we should have done – to second-guess those VFM decisions.” 

However, after what was at times a fraught session, Dawes admitted that while putting the new programme together “we will definitely try to record the asset sales”. 

“That is an important ingredient that will allow us to look across the piece at the financial value that has been achieved from the programme,” she said. “That is something that we can do now, because the Cabinet Office work is going on in tandem with ours. It will be much more straightforward. If I am being truly honest, the difference is that we will be cautious about monitoring and pushing for homes actually to be built once we have sold a site.” 

Hillier concluded the session saying she welcomed the statement that “you want to improve your monitoring”. 

“I take it as some acknowledgement that it has not been good,” said the Committee chair. “It is a shame, because at the beginning I gave you an opportunity to comment, and we could have done this a lot quicker if you had acknowledged the problems a little earlier.”

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