Use it or lose it – ‘Right to Regenerate’ consultation issued by Housing Secretary

I was particularly interested by the Housing Secretary’s recent announcement of a consultation on the possibility of the public being able to convert vacant plots of land and derelict buildings into new homes or community spaces.

The proposal, which was released on 16th January under the headline “Rights to Regenerate”, would see underused / unused land falling within public ownership sold to individuals or communities unless there is a compelling reason why it should be retained. A “use it or lose it” for the public sector’s land portfolios.

The scheme is being sold on the basis of three justifications:

  • A means by which local communities can be empowered to rejuvenate and transform their immediate environments;
  • The encouragement of development on brownfield land; and
  • Ensuring use of currently unused housing stock. The press release from HMG references there being 25 000 vacant council owned homes and over 100 000 empty council garages last year.

So, a souped-up version of the 2014 Right to Contest (originally proposed by Michael Heseltine in 1980) and one that seeks to improve on the success rate of that legislation, which resulted in only 192 requests made and 1 actual transfer.

A key distinguishing feature of the new proposal looks to be a requirement that land must have either a temporary use or a longer-term use, the current position being that a right to acquire under the 2014 legislation can be resisted solely where some future intended use can be evidenced. The new proposal therefore seeks to impose a more positive onus on the landowner that then previous and to draw a clear line as to what may, or may not, fall within the reach of the public.

The devil will, as ever, be in the detail and I shall be interested to see the qualification threshold by which land might become available. It will also be interesting to see what kind of enthusiasm this generates from local communities and the opposition that may arise from local authorities, which will undoubtedly consider this an additional burden at an inopportune time but which might, on reflection, view with some interest the possibility of disposing of stock at market value to projects that will enhance overall community good. It also remains to be seen how tightly regulated any permitted disposals are, in terms of potential disponees. One anticipates the scheme will be tightly bound to ensure that community groups and interests will be those that get their hands on publicly owned land, rather than private sector developers and investors.

This is a project being proposed for England only. Here in Wales, in October of last year the Welsh Government introduced plans to empower local authorities to acquire vacant / unused land from private landowners using compulsory purchase legislation. Clearly, the issue is common to both regions, but two very different proposals reflect two very different political outlooks. Irrespective, the issue of the UK’s housing shortage is not going to go away and neither is the issue of unutilised land. The Right to Regenerate consultation is therefore a useful one in reigniting conversation about a topic that is of importance to the West, as well as to the East, of Offa’s Dyke.

More information on James and the Real Estate department can be found here