The Government has this month launced a consultation on a new ‘Right to Regenerate’ which would enable the public to require councils and the public sector in England to sell unused land and assets.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said underused public land could be sold to individuals or communities by default, “unless there is a compelling reason the owner should hold onto it”.
It added: “Under the proposals, public bodies would need to have clear plans for land in the near future, even if only a temporary use before later development – if the land is kept for too long without being used, they would be required to sell it.”
The strengthened rights would also apply to unused publicly owned social housing and garages.
The MHCLG claimed that the latest figures showed there were more than 25,000 vacant council owned homes and according to recent FOI data more than 100,000 empty council-owned garages last year.
It promised that the new process would be “fast and simple”, and the Secretary of State would act as an arbiter “to ensure fairness and speedy outcomes in all cases”.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Right to Regenerate is the simple way to turn public land into public good, with land sold by default, unless there is a very compelling reason not to do so.
“We are cutting through red tape so that communities can make better use of available land and derelict buildings, which means more new homes, businesses and community assets.
“Millions of people will now be able to buy that empty property, unused garage or parcel of land and turn it into something good for them and their community.”
The Ministry said as an example that if a member of the public had an unused plot of land at the back of their house owned by the council, they could use the new Right to Regenerate.
“If the land was determined to be underused with no plans to bring it into use, it would be sold and the person making the request could have first right of refusal to purchase – enabling them to extend their garden, or for the community to come together to use the land in a beneficial way.”
The MHCLG said that since the 2014 creation of the ‘Right to Contest’, only 192 requests had been made under this power and only one had been granted, having usually been refused because the owner had future plans for the land, which meant some sites were left unused for years. “Today’s proposals will revitalise and strengthen the right to encourage more successful requests," it claimed.
The Ministry said proposals in the new Right to Regenerate consultation also include:
- Publishing a definition of unused or underused land.
- Extending the range of public bodies whose land is covered by the right to include town and parish councils.
- Giving the requester the exclusive right to buy the land at market value for a period of time (a ‘right of first refusal’). Under the current Right to Contest, there is no expectation that a requester would have a right of first refusal rather than the land being placed on the open market, giving people less incentive to make a request.
The consultation on the Right to Regenerate applies to land owned by public bodies in England. It relates to those ‘Strand 2’ public bodies set out in Schedule 16 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.
In addition to making it easier to make a request for land to be sold, the consultation proposes measures to improve transparency and assisting with record-keeping by requiring councils to follow publicity measures including: submitting quarterly reports on the number of preliminary enquiries made; physical and electronic notices to be displayed where a request has been made to release a site; all requests, together with their reasoning and outcomes, to be published on councils’ websites.
The consultation closes on 13 March.