News | Published July 24 2019

PAC criticises government over housing

The Public Accounts Committee has accused the government of failing to sell off enough land to build affordable and social housing, exacerbating the UK housing crisis.

The PAC says that the government will fall short of its 2020 target of public land sales “by a wide margin” and that it has passed up on “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to help ease housing woes.

In response, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "Government departments have identified enough surplus public sector land for 160,000 new homes and our development accelerator Homes England is providing expert assistance to get these built more quickly”.

The government also said it had built 222,000 new homes last year and is set to meet one target of raising £5 billion from land sales.

Yet the committee believes that the government’s inability to sell off public land will see 91,000 fewer homes built in 2020 than planned. This will see the government only manage to reach around 43 per cent of its target.

The PAC also believes that managing to meet the government's £5 billion land sale target was largely down to the sale of Network Rail's railway arches back in February this year, which accounted for £1.46 billion.

The government is also at loggerheads with developers over selling land for large amounts and then expecting the site to be dedicated to social housing.

According to the committee, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has also failed to quantify the number of new homes being built on the land that it has managed to sell, delegating the responsibility to local authorities in the areas concerned.

The committee says that the government set unrealistic targets for its departments and that the plans to sell off land were “chaotic and confused”, culminating in the failure.

It also says that the lack of attention paid by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to how sold public land could be used to provide affordable housing is "unacceptable".

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hiller said: “The UK needs more housing. As a major land holder, the government is in a unique position to release land for new homes; and yet the objectives of its land disposal programmes are chaotic and confused.

”We are baffled that the programmes were not designed with a view to how many homes were needed of what type, and where, nor how, the proceeds will be used.

“This failure [to sell off enough land] is largely because of the unrealistic targets the centre of government imposed on departments without enough thought about the issues that would need to be overcome to make sales happen.”

The PAC believes that the government did not fully consider the types of housing which needed to be built and where housing was required.

Furthermore, the government then failed to allow these factors to influence where land would be sold off, the committee said.

It accused the government of simply identifying surplus land and then trying to sell it off, irrespective of location, in its approach.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
July 24 2019

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