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Spending watchdog criticises monitoring of public land sell-off for new homes

by on July 2, 2015

The National Audit Office has criticised the Department for Communities and Local Government over its failure to monitor adequately its plans to sell public land to build a potential 100,000 homes.

Ministers set a deadline of March 2015 to reach that target and claimed it had been successful.

However, an investigation by the NAO found that insufficient information had been collected on the amount of money raised or how many homes had actually been built.

“In future land sales, responsibility for monitoring what happens to land after disposal should be made clear,” the independent public expenditure watchdog said.

The NAO report highlighted that the department measured a notional number of expected homes, not actual homes built.

The watchdog complained there was little or no supporting documentation or economic evidence behind the target or how it was allocated to departments.

The NAO said departmental progress in disposing of land was “slower than expected and government had to take action to increase land sales”.

The coalition government took various approaches to increase delivery, such as transferring land to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) for disposal, increasing central support for difficult sites and providing financial assistance to departments to help with the cost of preparing sites.

By the end of March 2015, the administration had disposed of enough land with capacity for an expected 109,950 homes. In total, the land disposed of comprised 942 sites.

The NAO noted that DCLG deployed a wide interpretation of the land that could be counted towards the target. The government’s figure of 109,590 homes included 15,740 homes on land that the public sector disposed of before the target was set, the NAO report pointed out.

The watchdog also found that surplus land was categorised as sold when the organisation owning the sites moved outside the public sector even if the sites were not developed: for example, sites owned by Royal Mail (2,584 homes) and British Waterways (8,199 homes).

View the press release

Roger Milne

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