The Department for Communities & Local Government did not monitor how many homes were being built on land it released for development as it did not want to place a “burden” on developers, MPs have been told.
During a public accounts committee hearing yesterday afternoon, DCLG permanent secretary Melanie Dawes said the department would consider looking at what progress was being made more closely in future.
The hearing was examining the issues raised in the National Audit Office’s June 2015 report on the government’s programme to dispose of enough public land to accommodate 100,000 homes. The report found there was no information on how many homes were actually built on released land.
Committee member Stewart Jackson described the NAO report as “one of the most damning reports we have had before us in the last five years”.
Ms Dawes told MPs the department’s goal had been about release of public land that had a good chance of having housing built on it – for example because it had planning permission for homes or was part of a local plan or a strategic housing land availability assessment – rather than building homes. She said: “I am confident the land was released and we are confident the land we sold for housing will lead to housebuilding.”
She said the Homes and Communities Agency had information about progress on its sites but it had not asked departments or developers to monitor it.
She said: “Should we have monitored actual housebuilding? The NAO report does recommend it. We decided during the programme that we should not because we were really worried about putting a burden on developers and making public land a bureaucratic problem for them in a way private land was not.”
Asked why the department had not employed a couple of people to check planning portals for information on progress of the sites, Ms Dawes said: “The NAO recommended we try harder on that next time and we are going to look at that and see what we can do.” But she said data from developers was sometimes hard to acquire.
She said a retrospective check of 100 sites had found they would yield more homes than had been counted towards the target.
She said the department did not set goals for affordable housing on the sites released through the scheme. Peter Schofield, director general for neighbourhoods at DCLG, said affordable housing would be dealt with through the section 106 planning gain system, as it is on all sites.