Land agent Aston Mead is calling on local councils to play a greater part in the push to create more affordable homes.
The company’s comments follow a recent analysis of London Land Commission data, which indicates that 93% of brownfield sites in London are owned by local authorities.
Aston Mead Director Adam Hesse said: “The only way to build cheaper homes is to pay less for the land on which they are built. We can’t expect private landowners to reduce their profits by selling land at subsidised prices. So as the largest landowners in the country, it’s the councils which hold the key to solving the affordable housing crisis. They need to identify the brownfield sites they are currently sitting on, and make them available.”
Under the Housing and Planning Bill, all local authorities will be required to keep up-to-date registers of publicly-owned brownfield land that could be suitable for development. Adam Hesse suggests that councils could start to act like residential property developers, perhaps in joint ventures with existing construction companies.
He explains: “One idea could be for councils to build 25% of their homes on their own land for housing benefit tenants, whilst retaining ownership of these properties. This would prevent payments being made to ‘Rachman’ style landlords, whilst giving the council more control over those who are in genuine need of accommodation. The local authorities would also retain the value of their estates as long term investors.
In addition, another 50% could be built for keyworkers, who would perhaps be allowed to buy half and rent half, with the option to buy the remainder of the property at a later stage. A pre-agreed mechanism could be put in place, whereby these owners could only sell the properties to other keyworkers, or back to the local authority. This would ensure that the properties remain affordable.
Finally, as councils are spending a lot of money housing older people with no way of paying for themselves, the remaining 25% could be built as sheltered accommodation – such as apartment blocks with a resident warden for the over-65s. However, it may be that 25% of each site needs to be sold to developers at market value, to help pay for the rest of the development.”
The recent ‘Domesday Book’ survey of all brownfield land owned by public bodies in London identified almost 37,000 brownfield sites (36,797), which in total could deliver over 100,000 homes.
Adam Hesse added: “What I’m suggesting doesn’t just apply to London. It’s something which could be carried out across the UK. Local authorities are the only organisations that can deliver cheap land for affordable housing in the sort of quantities this country so desperately needs.”