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Labour looks for a ‘fair way’ to find land for development

Labour looks for a ‘fair way’ to find land for development

🕔12.Jun 2014

Britain devotes more land to golf courses than it does to homes, while planning restrictions preventing cities from expanding are being taken to “ritualistic proportions”, the academic responsible for drawing up Labour’s housing policy has claimed.

Sir Michael Lyons, a former chief executive of Birmingham City Council, is expected to recommend a new generation of ‘urban extensions’ based on the post-war new town expansion when his housing review is published in September.

He has been asked by Labour to look at ways of building at least 200,000 new houses by the end of the next parliament.

Sir Michael told the Guardian newspaper last week: “The central issue is how we release more land in this country – a country that has developed urban containment to ritualistic proportions and in a country that devotes more land to golf courses than it does to homes. It is a national problem that we collectively have to sort out.

“This belief in urban containment is rooted in a Victorian view of cities that they should not grow, they should not spread and they are full of problems when most of us would acknowledge that the future of the UK economy depends to a large part on the dynamism and growth of the cities.”

The review is likely to propose ideas for freeing up development land and allowing councils to borrow more to fund housing development in partnership with the private sector. Protracted delays in the release of land were the single biggest cause of Britain’s housing crisis, Sir Michael claimed.

Birmingham’s Labour-led council says it needs to build 80,000 new homes to solve an acute housing crisis, but has identified space for 45,000 in the city. As many as 5,000 homes could be built in the Sutton Coldfield green belt, and Birmingham is also asking neighbouring authorities to identify development land for overspill city housing.

Sir Michael’s report is likely to recommend that while local communities should have their say on the rights and wrongs of development, they cannot veto new homes in a time of severe shortage. The expansion of current conurbations, capable of using existing infrastructure, could be built as quickly as new towns, and lead to tens of thousands of new homes, contributing to a target of 200,000 new dwellings a year by 2020.

The housing review is one of the five big policy decisions awaiting Labour, including funding of the NHS, a growth review led by Lord Adonis, the future structure of railways and its overall fiscal stance. Lyons, a former chairman of the BBC Trust and an economist, spent much of his career running local authorities.

Lyons insisted the demand for more housing was legitimate. “We are not serving our children and grandchildren well,” he said. “We are not leaving them an adequate legacy of homes. Every community has a right to a voice about where new development takes place and what form it takes. What they cannot have is a right to a prohibition on the building of homes. That is simply intolerable in the common interest.”

He said he wanted councils to build more homes so long as they were not competing with private developers and they should be freed from current constraints on borrowing to do so.

The review is likely to recommend more housing expansion into the green belt. Sir Michael said vacant brownfield sites would not on their own provide enough land to deliver the volume of new-build required.

He is considering intorducing a new generation of Urban Development Corporations to build sizeable extensions on the edge of existing towns and cities.

The proposals would either require land to be sold close to its current use value or for private land owners to receive a lower initial profit, but receive more later by taking a financial stake in the development.

He wants to develop a model whereby the price at which land was sold to a partnership or UDC initially was lower, but the land owner could receive further income over time as the benefits of the development came through.

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