Data is key to unlocking councils’ brownfield land for homes

Lack of information and release of data on brownfield land by London local authorities is hampering progress on using public sector land for housebuilding. That is one of the conclusions of a new London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) report looking at public sector land in the capital.

It is estimated that Greater London Authority (GLA) assets alone could accommodate at least 100,000 new homes in the capital. There are also many other owners of public sector land, including the NHS, central government departments and local authorities.

The government is backing the development of a London Land Commission within the GLA to help identify all public sector brownfield land by 2025. But the LCCI says that the newly-established commission will struggle to tackle the capital’s housing crisis if it is not given more powers to fill the information gap on the amount of brownfield land held by London local authorities in particular.

The last ‘mandatory’ count of local authority-owned brownfield land in London was undertaken in 2012 and only 45% of boroughs provided information.

LCCI sent out freedom of information requests to the capital’s 32 local authorities – excluding the City of London – to find out more about their brownfield land holdings.

The report, Unlocking London’s housing potential – Making the most of London’s public sector lands found:

  • Only seven local authorities could provide data on the total amount of brownfield land they owned in hectares
  • Three said they held no brownfield land at all
  • Four said that the information was not available
  • Seven said they did not have specific data on the amount of brownfield land held, but had either given the total amount of land available for development in hectares or had provided a list of sites and assets available for development.

The report also says local authorities should work together to set up regional small developer panels, to reduce barriers to market entry for smaller companies and help councils dispose of small parcels of land and infill sites.

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of LCCI, said, “While it is no silver bullet to solve the housing crisis, we have long maintained that the first step should be to utilise all available publicly-owned land in the capital. Little action can be taken by the London Land Commission until it has at least a basic understanding of the brownfield land owned by local councils – it is simply not acceptable for it to begin its work based on incomplete information from 2012.

“We are deeply concerned that the local authorities we asked seemed unable to give us accurate – or in some cases any – information on the amount of brownfield land they own, as it is now clear that the commission’s first task will be to extract this information for itself. The commission must be given the requisite powers to compel local authorities to play ball.”

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