London is expected to be hit hardest by the UK’s housing shortage as its population comes close to surpassing the 1939 population peak of 8.9 million, with an estimated 11.3 million expected to inhabit the city by 2050.
Figures released by the Home Building Federation (HBF) indicate that 220,000 new homes per year will be needed in order to meet rising demand, while also revealing that 2012/13 saw only 108,190 new homes completed. This is the lowest building rate the UK has experienced since 1923.
Selling off public land and converting it into space suitable for residential properties is one of the ways in which the government hopes to restore balance between supply and demand. Research data released by property firm Savills reveals that freeing up government-owned land across the UK could provide room for at least 2 million new homes.
Unused public land could hold millions of homes
The study involved accessing a database of government-owned land and eliminating from the equation all hectares of land that were unlikely to be sold off, such as land belonging to national parks or heritage sites.
This left approximately 40% of land deemed suitable for conversion to residential space; including land owned by the Ministry of Defence, Department for Rural Affairs, Greater London Authority and the NHS.
In some cases, the land would not need to be wholly converted into residential space, but could simply incorporate housing into the layout, so that the residential complexes would exist alongside whatever public facilities already occupy the site.
However, in areas where the public land has been host to remote industrial sites, regeneration will need to take place, and transport links to the area will need to be improved in order for these sites to attract interest from property investors.
This will mean significant planning and coordination between the various organisations involved in the conversion of the land, but such efforts will be worth it in the long run. Statistics suggest that selling off government-owned land en masse could go some way towards alleviating the effects of the housing crisis, and do much to improve the long-term sustainability of the UK property market.
Freeing up London land
As of now, the government has pledged to release portions of public land in the vicinity of London by 2015, including land owned by Transport for London, London Legacy Development Corporations, the London Fire Brigade and the Metropolitan Police Services.
The amount of unused public land earmarked for conversion will provide space for around 100,000 new homes in London; the amount of land released so far has allowed enough space for an estimated 68,000 new homes.
According to Susan Emmett, director of residential research at Savills, this approach has already proven successful in certain areas, including Banking Riverside, where plans for 10,800 new homes are underway, around 40% of which will be affordable.
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