Progress with the disposal of public land for new homes Contents

1Releasing land for new homes

1.On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Department for Communities and Local Government as the department responsible for the programme commitment to release land with capacity for 160,000 homes by April 2020.1 We also took evidence from the Homes and Communities Agency, which is in charge of meeting the Department for Communities and Local Government’s individual disposals target, and from three departments that are major contributors to the programme. These three departments were: the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and the Department for Transport.

Progress in disposing of land

2.The new cross-government programme for the disposal of public land for new homes started in May 2015.2 Departments have made a slow start in releasing land as part of this programme. Almost a year into the programme, at the end of March 2016, government had disposed of land with capacity to build an estimated 8,580 homes across 77 sites, which represents 5% of the programme commitment. Land with capacity for a further 4,853 homes had been sold in the same period, but at the time of the C&AG’s report, July 2016, the Homes and Communities Agency had not obtained sufficient evidence that the sites would be developed for housing (evidence which is required in order for sites to be scored against the programme).3

3.We challenged individual departments on the rate of progress with disposing of land. The Department for Transport explained that as this was the first year of the new programme, it had spent time establishing the governance arrangements for the programme, agreeing departments’ contributions, and designing the programme structure.4 The Department for Communities and Local Government’s view was that the Spending Review process affected the speed at which the programme could start. However, despite these common issues, performance to date has varied widely between departments. By March 2016, the Department for Communities and Local Government had disposed of 12% of its target (land with capacity for 4,326 homes out of a 36,000 target), the Ministry of Defence 1.5% of its target (856 out of 55,000), and the Department for Transport only 0.2% (71 out of 38,000).5 Figure 1 sets out individual departments’ progress against the programme commitment.

Figure 1: Progress against the programme commitment, by department

Expected contribution to the programme1

Estimated capacity of land sold and scored as at March 20162

Ministry of Defence



Department for Transport



Department for Communities and Local Government



Department of Health



Ministry of Justice



Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy




1. The contributions measure a notional number of homes, representing the potential housing capacity of a site. When a site is disposed of, the selling department estimates the number of homes that a site could support. This estimate is used to measure performance against the commitment.

2. Estimated at time of sale, with evidence of ‘planning certainty’ provided to the Homes and Communities Agency. This figure includes the estimate capacity of land already sold under the new programme. The total of this column is 8,359, which is 221 less than the total land capacity released to 31 March 2016. This difference relates to land disposals by departments who do not have a specific housing contribution set out in the Spending Review 2015.

Source: C&AG’s Report, Figure 8

4.The Department for Transport told us that its low outturn was in part due to a lag in data validation by the Homes and Communities Agency; the latest figures show that land with capacity for 544 homes had been sold, and land with further capacity for 1,200 homes was awaiting validation.6 The Department for Transport also explained that its target for the new programme represents a nine-fold increase on their target for the previous programme, and that the new programme was both ambitious and challenging. We accept that the new programme target is higher than the first programme, but we noted that each department had agreed to its targets as a part of the set up of the programme.7

5.The Department for Communities and Local Government told us that the latest figures at the time of our evidence session, to June 2016, showed progress to have reached around 11,000 potential homes, or approximately 7% of the programme commitment.8 This means that, to meet the 160,000 programme commitment, departments would need to dispose of land with capacity for around 149,000 homes during the remaining years of the programme.9 Each department agreed that they considered that the Department for Communities and Local Government had improved the management of the programme, and the Ministry of Defence told us that it expected its contribution to less ‘back-loaded’ than it had been under the previous programme.10

Progress in identifying sites for future sale

6.At March 2016, departments had identified further potential sites with capacity to support 104,461 homes, representing a further 65% of the programme commitment. Departments provide a risk rating for each of these potential sites, based on the likelihood of the site being sold before the end of the programme in 2020.11 Over 50% of the estimated housing capacity on sites identified for future sale, for the programme as a whole, is on sites considered high risk.12 Many of these sites are still being used by departments to deliver public services, and their disposal depends on other policy decisions. For example, the Ministry of Defence told us it is currently producing an estate optimisation plan, which looks to reduce the size of its built estate by 30%, whilst ensuring it retains the facilities and capabilities it needs to support the military. In the case of the Department of Health, delays associated with its local Sustainability and Transformation Plans could affect the time it takes NHS Trusts to release sites that are currently being used to deliver services.13

7.The Ministry of Defence also told us it recognised that identifying land for future sale with capacity for 100% of its target by 2020 was only part of the challenge; and it was also focusing on decreasing the risk associated with the sites identified. The Ministry of Defence intends to reduce the ‘high risk’ capacity of sites it has identified for future sale from 68% to 17%, and to identify land in excess of its target to act as a ‘buffer’ should sites fall out of the programme. The Department of Health also intends to identify more capacity than necessary to ensure that it meets its target. However, as things stand, the programme is likely to be very back-loaded, and the sites identified to date are at high risk of falling out of the programme; therefore there is a real risk that the Government will not achieve its commitment by the end of the programme.14

1 C&AG’s Report, Disposal of public land for new homes: a progress report, Session 2016–17, HC 510, 12 July 2016

2 C&AG’s Report, para 1

3 C&AG’s Report, paras 12, 3.2, 3.3

4 Q 80; C&AG’s Report, para 3.11

5 Q 80; C&AG’s Report, Figure 8

7 Q 82; C&AG’s Report paras 7, 2.7

9 The 149,000 potential homes remaining is calculated by deducting the current progress (7%) reported by the Department for Communities and Local Government (11,000) from government’s overall commitment (160,000).

11 C&AG’s Report, paras 13, 3.4, 3.5

12 C&AG’s Report, para 13, Figure 5

1 November 2016