New Right to Regenerate plots of land and derelict buildings – Consultation Launched

22/01/2021

On 16th January 2021, the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, announced plans to enable the public to turn vacant plots of land and derelict buildings into community spaces and new homes.

Broadly speaking, the plans will provide an opportunity for individuals and their local communities to transform, and take control of those areas blotting the landscape where they live. The proposals hope to spark regeneration in urban areas across England by encouraging development of brownfield sites into more usable spaces in line with local preferences and needs.

What do the plans hope to achieve?

  • They would make it easier to challenge local authorities and other public organisations to release land for redevelopment, enabling individuals to ‘require’ councils’ and public sector bodies to sell unused land and assets.
  • Give individuals (the ‘public’) the right of first refusal to purchase unused land. If the request is denied, the public body must have clear plans for use of the land in the near future, even if it is only going to be used temporarily. However, if the land is kept for too long without being used, it would require them to sell it.
  • Allow land to be sold by ‘default’ unless there is a compelling reason not to do so
  • Make it easier and faster to transform vacant plots of land and derelict buildings, predominately in brownfield sites into homes, businesses, or community spaces.
  • The plans include the right to buy unused social housing and garages, providing opportunities to transform housing stock. The latest figures show there were over 25,000 vacant council-owned homes and over 100,000 empty garages last year alone.

A similar power was introduced in the 1980s by Michael Heseltine. It allowed the public to request the sale of under-used publicly owned land in England and was extended in 2011 through ‘Community Right to Reclaim Land’. 2014 saw the creation of the ‘Right to Contest’ which built upon the previous legislation. However, since then, only 192 requests have been made using this power with only one request being granted. The proposals hope to revitalise the previous system and encourage a greater number of successful requests.

Whilst the proposals have been widely welcomed by community leaders, they have not impressed everyone. Tim Sloan at Levitate Architects in London, has concerns that publicly owned assets may find their way into developers’ hands, who he states are ‘the only people with the time and money to properly pursue councils to dispose of what they don’t have plans for themselves.’

There are further concerns surrounding cash-rich communities being able to land-grab property at the expense of poorly resourced local authorities. Further clarification as to who the ‘public’ would be in this scenario is welcomed, in order to avoid private sector developers taking advantage of the scheme.

Fundamentally, the plans have the potential to help local communities regenerate the areas in which they live, but the process of acquiring the vacant land and empty properties must be carefully considered.

The consultation into the plans closes on 13th March 2021.

More information

Pinney Talfourd are experts in residential property litigation and can advise you on changes to the law so you are given up to date advice.

Please do not hesitate to contact either Stephen Eccles on 01708 463202 or Oliver-James Topping on 01708 463227 should you wish to discuss anything further.

This article was written by Oliver-James Topping, Solicitor in our Residential Property Litigation Team. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of January 2021.

22/01/2021

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