Osborne’s great British sell-off

Kate McCann
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MEMBERS of the public and businesses will today be offered the chance to buy government land and property on the open market, a landmark change designed to raise money for Treasury coffers and free up space to build new homes.

The scheme, announced today by chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, will see a Rightmove-style website launched, enabling the public to locate every inch of the £330bn worth of government-owned land and buildings – and identify which sites could be sold off, even if they are currently in use.

Anyone can then submit an application to the government, with their proposal considered by policy experts before the land is sold on at a fair price if the application is successful.

“The government is the custodian of the taxpayers’ assets. We certainly should not act as some kind of compulsive hoarder of land and property that could be better used for things like housing and local economic growth,” Alexander said.

The news has been welcomed by the housing industry, with house-builders keen to get their hands on a share of the land owned by Whitehall, which accounts for 40 per cent of developable sites around the country. But ministers were quick to point out that a strong economic case must be made before sites will be released, with Francis Maude seeking to reassure taxpayers that they won’t see the country’s landmarks put up for sale. “Of course we will never sell our national treasures such as Downing Street or the British Museum,” he said, “but there are hundreds of other properties across the country which are under-used or lying vacant. Hard-working taxpayers expect us to save money like this and that’s just what we are determined to do.”

Since 2010 enough public land to build 62,000 homes has already been released, and sites allowing for the development of 100,000 more, including three former Ministry of Defence bases and an old hospital, have already been singled out.

A spokesman for the Home Builder’s Federation welcomed the news but warned that the government must act quickly to release land in order to meet the demand for new homes. “It’s a very positive move but we need to see some quick progress,” he said. “The public sector is the largest land owner in the country and a lack of land has been one of the biggest constraints on new buildings for a number of years. If they can bring land forward quickly this would be a very welcome move. The Treasury sees this as an economic driver, which can only be a good thing.”

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