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Government calls for evidence on how the land market is controlled

September 21, 2020 9:36 PM

Almost unnoticed, a very significant consultation on Transparency & Competition in the UK land market has been launched by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The responses to this - and the reaction from Government - could have a more significant impact on house prices and delivery of new homes than the much more widely publicised and simultaneously launched Planning White Paper "Planning for the Future".

The subject of this other consultation (or rather "call for evidence on data on land control") is close to the heart of ALTER's Vice Chair Dr Tony Vickers, himself a former lecturer to planning professionals on "Green Taxes" at Kingston University and former director of the Association for Geographic Information (AGI).

"The Land Registry, Valuation Office Agency, Ordnance Survey, Royal Mail and local government between them hold a great deal of data that could, if joined up, make it very easy to value land as a basis for Land Value Taxation", said Dr Vickers, whose PhD thesis was on land value mapping. "But it isn't joined up at all and the one missing component is data on so-called 'options' on land, made between landowners and developers somethimes decades ahead of any actual transaction. This paper, which has the stamp of Land Registry all over it - and LR has always wanted to be the driver for joining up land datasets - could get that vital information out in the open."

As the paper says, "transparency on the ownership of land was resisted for hundreds of years". Until little more than 100 years ago, only those who owned property had a vote and the House of Lords - bastion of landlordism on a grand scale - was utterly opposed to revealing the source of its wealth and power. Our laws are still largely framed to protect landowner interests. Only 20 years ago did the Land Registry become truly public and still its registers are incomplete, since they rely largely on post-2001 land transactions to trigger new entries.

Among the benefits that the paper claims for better transparency in land options (and other contractual devices involving land but not qualifying as land transactions) are:

  • correcting land market failures
  • revealing who really controls strategically important sites
  • removing barriers to entry for small & medium sized developers, who lack access to suitable sites
  • greater financial stability at national level
  • reducing land prices and hence house prices

The consultation is open to anyone. ALTER urges all who support any of the above to submit a response, with local evidence.

Isn't it about time that a Local Planning Authority could adopt its Local Plan and then be more proactive at implementing it, without relying on who responds to its "Call for Sites" - in a market for sites which has already been stitched up by a handful of major national home builders?