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Government told to get a move on with building homes in land disposal plan

The government must work more quickly in selling its surplus public land to deliver its pledge of building 160,000 new homes by 2020, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said today.

A new report released by the PAC recognised that progress has been made by the government, but raised concerns that the back-loaded nature of the government’s programme increases the risk that it will not meet its commitment.

The report notes that many of the sites identified by government departments are still being used to deliver services and called on the DCLG to clarify how it will monitor construction and departments’ land disposal.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “There is a desperate need for new homes and public land is an irreplaceable asset.

“Taxpayers clearly have a right to know whether they are getting a good deal from its sale and how many homes are being built as a result.”

The PAC set out serious concerns about the previous government’s land disposals programme in September 2015, notably that it had not adequately recorded proceeds from sales nor the number of homes already built or under construction.

DCLG has reassured PAC that it has now put guidance and monitoring arrangements in place for the 2015-2020 programme which have not yet been released.

However, the committee heard that only 7% of the programme had been delivered by June of this year, requiring the government to find land for another 149,000 homes in the remaining years.

Even as recently as March, the performance of individual departments in meeting their target contributions varied widely, with the Department for Transport achieving only 0.2% of its 38,000 home target, with capacity for just 71 homes.

“Sluggish sales have hindered progress towards the 2020 target while questions continue to hang over the potential of many sites earmarked for sale and whether homes will be in the places people want to live,” Hillier said.

She added that ultimately the public will “judge the success of this programme on the basis of the homes built and the government must make clear who taxpayers should hold to account for this”.

A DCLG spokesman responded by blaming previous governments for hoarding public land, thereby blocking the construction of housing and tasking taxpayers with upkeep costs.

He said: “We are taking direct action by using surplus public land and £2bn of investment to accelerate delivery of thousands of new homes during this Parliament.”

The report has recommended that departments reduce speculation on ‘high risk’ sites whose disposal depends on policy decisions in order to prevent further delay. Departments have also been advised to make their estate strategies public so they can demonstrate that their sales represent value for money.

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