Radical plans to allow councils to compulsorily purchase unused land to tackle Britain’s housing crisis are being considered by Downing Street.
The proposals follow frustration that private developers and landowners are sitting on sites that could be used for more affordable homes.
The compulsory purchase order (CPO) idea is “in the mix” of wider housing recommendations being mulled over by Theresa May should the Budget fail to win over the public on housing, Whitehall sources have confirmed to HuffPost UK.
The proposal would be aimed at ‘brownfield’ sites and, along with a “use it or lose it” power over planning permissions, would provide an alternative to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s own preference for reducing protections to Green Belt land.
The PM is instinctively opposed to any suggestion of eating into the Green Belt and is acutely aware that with a working majority of just 13, she would face bitter opposition from ‘Shire Tory’ MPs.
The Treasury is said to be attracted to relaxing planning rules as a ‘cost-free’ means of hitting tough housing targets, with public finances tight.
But May raised the stakes in her party conference speech, pledging that housing would be the defining policy of her remaining premiership.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has separately battled hard for new borrowing powers to fund a new injection of investment in housebuilding.
No.10 has pressed the Treasury to include eye-catching measures in the Budget to boost housing, but there are fears among several Tory MPs that Hammond may reject them as too expensive.
Earlier this year, Javid’s Housing White Paper floated plans to allow “more active use of compulsory purchase powers to promote development on stalled sites for housing” that could see land taken away from under-performing developers.
Javid also raised the option of allowing local authorities to hold auctions for the land following compulsory purchase orders.
The radical ideas were part of a wider move to strengthen council powers to speed up and build housing, but since the White Paper in February councils have seen little movement in Government on the issue.
HuffPost understands that rather than a wholesale reform, the current plan is to streamline the CPO process, removing red tape and making it easier for councils to sign off the necessary paperwork. Under one plan, even the higher visibility of CPO powers could force developers to release more land.
Tracy Harrison, Northern Housing Consortium who was involved in the housing roundtable in Downing Street last month:
“What we are asking for is from a funding point of view we don’t have a shortage of land, but a lot of it is brownfield land. Although the land itself is cheap, it’s expensive to bring it to market. It’s often under very fragmented ownership.
“We did discuss compulsory purchase orders as something that’s already legal, as something that would be a tricky tool to use. But it could be a key factor in land deliverability as local authorities are ideally placed to be the focal point for long-scale regeneration.”