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Government owns land capable of providing 70,000 homes in areas in need, report says

Out-Law News | 01 Sep 2014 | 4:01 pm | 1 min. read

The UK government owns land capable of providing more than 70,000 homes in parts of England most in need of housing, according to a report in the Estates Gazette.

The UK government launched an online tool last month, allowing members of the public to search the government's property portfolio and encouraging them to apply for the release of underused land and buildings for reuse and redevelopment. Under a 'Right to Contest' introduced by the government in January, communities and businesses can challenge the use of land and property owned by central government and ask that it be released if they can make better use of it.

The Estates Gazette used the Government Property Finder tool to investigate government land holdings in 10 locations outside London where housing supply is chronically restricted, and found that government land and buildings with sufficient capacity for more than 70,000 homes existed there.

While no government land or assets were found to be located in the areas of Castle Point in Essex, Mole Valley in Surrey, and West Oxfordshire, the search tool revealed considerable public land holdings in Oxford, Harrogate, Brighton and Hove, and Brentwood. The land identified by the report includes court buildings, police stations, driving centres and government offices.

The report said that the government owns 3,490 acres of land and 143,630 square feet of assets in the borough of Oxford, a district in which only 60 homes were built in the 12 months to 31 March against a target of 600 homes per year.

"There is so little land availability in Oxford because of green belt restrictions and geographical complications such as flood plains," said Mark Charter, head of the Oxford office of property company Carter Jonas, according to the report. "The only way new development will come through is by initiatives such as this, which could bring existing government sites forward for homes. The Government Property Finder map will be welcomed by developers."

The report also highlighted 164,941 sq ft of government buildings and 23 acres of public land in Harrogate, which it estimated could supply 460 homes in a town that fell short of its housing target by 665 homes in 2013-14. A total of 227,119 sq ft of government buildings were found to exist in Brighton and Hove, while Brentwood had 147,756 sq ft of public buildings and 2 acres of public land, the report said.

"Our biggest concern is that the mechanism to purchase will be bound by a plethora of red tape and procurement rules," said Iain Murray of asset management company Criterion Capital, according to the report. "Applied properly, this initiative could play a significant role in regenerating town centres and delivering much-needed housing stock."