Shapps: Communities to be given a right to reclaim land

There is currently a large amount of public sector land that could be developed for new homes, businesses and leisure facilities. The amount of previously developed land owned by public bodies is more than twice the size of Leicester – but a complicated and ineffective system makes it difficult to find out where the land is and who owns it, and even harder to request to use it.

By the summer, a new one-stop shop will provide citizens with information about empty land and buildings they can develop to improve their local area. The new online tool will combine information from existing databases to form the bedrock of a new Community Right – the Right to Reclaim Land – which will also include an improved system for members of the public to request that empty public sector land or buildings are sold off, so they can be brought back into use.

The current system for requesting the sale of public land and buildings is so obscure and restrictive that it is rarely used, with only one successful application in the past 13 years.

In the future, members of public will be able to access information about land owned by a much broader range of public bodies, and the system for considering requests will be streamlined, with all but the most sensitive decisions considered alongside other planning casework, instead of Government Ministers.

As part of today’s move, Housing Minister Grant Shapps is also calling on Government departments to make more information about their surplus land available. To kick-start this drive towards greater transparency, and set an example for what the public sector can do, the Minister is publishing, for the first time, a detailed list of all the land and property assets owned by the national housing and regeneration agency, so communities can see where land and property is located, and its status.

Shapps said:

"It’s completely unacceptable that people have to walk past derelict land and buildings every day, in the knowledge that there’s almost no prospect they will be brought back into use, and there’s absolutely nothing they can do about it. For years, communities who have attempted to improve their local area by developing disused public land and buildings have found themselves bouncing off the walls of bureaucratic indifference – their attempts to do something positive for their community thwarted by a system that has proved totally ineffective.

"So starting today, we are introducing a new Right to Reclaim Land. Under our plans, communities will no longer be kept in the dark about what land is available; instead they will be able to see at the click of a button what local opportunities there are for development. And rather than requests to use that land being blocked and ignored, ordinary people who make a case to improve their local area will be listened to.

"But this is only the start – we are no longer prepared to accept the state-sponsored decline of local communities. I am determined that this system works, so I want to hear any suggestions for improvements, and if necessary I will use legislation to make sure it is local communities who reap the rewards of opportunities to develop local land and buildings that currently lie unused."

The new Community Right is part of a wider package of measures by the Government to give more powers to councils and communities, so they can make their own decisions on housing and development issues.

Better information about disused land will complement the new Community Right to Build, which will offer communities the chance to give the green light to new developments without the need for specific planning applications.

Local people, working alone or with their communities, will be able to come together to build the homes, shops and businesses the area needs. These new community rights will offer people a solution to their housing needs in villages, towns and cities up and down the country. If communities support locally-led proposals, they will be able to regenerate abandoned urban sites or build homes in countryside communities, ensuring they remain vibrant places to live.

A significant proportion of existing sites that are suitable for development are sitting in public land banks – there are over 16,000 hectares of previously developed land owned by councils and public bodies, and on central Government land alone there is enough capacity to build 60,000 new homes over the next 10 years.

Information about public sector land and property is currently limited – records are only partial and are spread across different databases that are not easily accessible to the public. By the summer, this data will become much more transparent and easier to access. Information from existing databases will be combined and made accessible from one user-friendly website. The amount of information about public land will also increase, as more public bodies begin adding information about their assets.

Alongside this greater transparency, a new process to request the sale of public land and property will be in place by the end of the summer. New regulations will also significantly expand the number of public bodies that can be approached with a request to sell their assets.

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