A new government initiative could force councils to sell vacant plots of land and derelict buildings for redevelopment under plans announced in January by the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP. The ‘Right to Regenerate’ would be built from an existing law where members of the public can try to buy unused land off councils.
This existing law, created by Michael Heseltine in 1980, gave the public the power to request a sale of underused land owned by public bodies in England – this was then extended through the Community Right to Reclaim Land in 2011. Despite the useful nature of this law, it has not yet been used much by the public. Since the 2014 creation of the Right to Contest, only 192 requests have been made under this power and only one has been granted, having usually been refused because the owner had future plans for the land.
Both main parties are in favour of the policy, and it may well soon begin to have an impact in Northamptonshire.
The government said: “We want to empower people to challenge the inefficient use of public sector land in their communities, and to bring it into better economic use, including to provide new homes.”
The latest figures show there were over 25,000 vacant council owned homes and according to recent FOI data, over 100,000 empty council-owned garages last year. Underused public land could be sold to individuals or communities by default, unless there is a compelling reason the owner should hold onto it.
This bill is not very popular among some people who would prefer greater powers to purchase private property that has been left derelict. Most underused sites are not owned by councils. It is argued that the government should give councils more power to force owners to look after their sites, or to take empty buildings and neglected sites into public ownership that could create some new homes, businesses and community assets.
For instance, the Riverside Hotel, owned by Charles Lane has been derelict for over 30 years. Since 1986 it has provided nothing but an eyesore for the residents of Oundle, and many people in the area are keen for this to be changed. There has been a long history of planning applications for the site, but none of the approved plans have been carried forward. This is the sort of property that people feel should be prioritised by councils.