Government has no idea how many houses have been built on publicly owned land that has been sold to developers

Ministers have been accused of 'alarming complacency'

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The Independent Online

The Government has no idea how many houses have been built on publicly owned land that has been sold off to developers – or how much money has been raised for the taxpayer, a damning new Parliamentary report has revealed.

Ministers claimed before the last election that enough Government land had been sold since 2011 to accommodate more than 100,000 homes across nearly 950 sites.

But Parliament’s spending watchdog has warned that ministers or officials do not know how many houses had actually been built, how much the land was sold for or whether it was disposed of at below market price.

It accused the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which has responsibility for the scheme, of “alarming complacency”, particularly at a time when public sector spending was being squeezed.

“Many thousands of people desperately need homes and an effective land disposal programme should provide two significant benefits: much-needed housing and much-needed cash for the public purse,” Meg Hillier, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

“Yet the Government has no record of how many homes have been built or are under construction. It has no record of sale proceeds, nor their value in relation to prevailing market prices.

“There is no means of knowing whether taxpayers are getting a good deal from the sale of their land.”

 

The PAC said that the Government should urgently introduce procedures to monitor the sale of future public land and buildings. Ministers are planning to sell off enough public property to build a further 150,000 homes between now and 2020.

In its report the PAC said it was concerned that the timescale for the sell-off could incentivise Government departments to sell off unused land at a knock-down price to meet the target set by ministers.

“We pushed the Department for an example of where a site had not been sold because the seller had concerns that a quicker sale would adversely affect value for money,” they said. “The Department could not think of such an example.”

The PAC also found that DCLG also counted land sold before the programme had even started as contributing to meeting the 100,000 target. Some 15,740 of the homes supposed to have been built were on land that had been sold off before 2010. Some of the disposals were of land that had been sold off as long ago as 1997.

Ms Hillier added that achieving value for money from the sales was particularly important given the scale of spending cuts planned.

“Government departments have been instructed to draw up plans for further spending cuts and many people are rightly worried about the effects these will have on struggling public services.

“It is an insult to taxpayers that the potential economic benefits from the sale of public land should be put at risk by such short-sighted Government mismanagement.”

DCLG said: “We are releasing surplus Government land to protect taxpayers from paying for their upkeep and build the homes families need. This has released enough land to build 109,000 new homes and we now want to go further and faster with land sales for a further 150,000 homes by 2020, helping people achieve their dream of home ownership.”

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