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Budget to give councils keys to surplus land

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Next week’s Budget will ask councils to take the lead in the development of surplus and derelict public sector land, LGC can reveal.

The chancellor is set to announce a programme which will see a dozen participating councils benefit from successful property sales by either retaining a small percentage of capital receipts or “some as yet unspecified flexibility around business rates”, according to LGA improvement board papers seen by LGC.

However, there are already concerns about whether Whitehall departments such as the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health will agree to have councils dispose of their surplus land and, as a result, a high level steering board has been created within central government.

The Government Property Unit, which is situated within the Cabinet Office, is expected to contribute a budget of around £700,000 for the project in 2013-14 with around half of that funding expected to be spent on civil servant secondees who will be placed in the participating councils.

The LGA papers state: “The LGA have been commissioned to run this project on behalf of the Cabinet Office based upon our successful three previous waves of a similar capital and asset programme.”

They continue: “A national steering committee has been formed to ensure sufficient profile within Whitehall departments, and by implication, ensure compliance.

“In addition this group may need to take some difficult policy decisions. For example, whether to extract NHS property for this programme from NHS Property Services Ltd which will be established in April; or to formally declare MoD estate surplus”.

The announcement is in response to Lord Heseltine’s ‘No Stone Unturned’ report which called for the Government Property Unit to work with councils and local enterprise partnerships so they could bring disused public land back into economic use.

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