The London Land Commission was officially launched on 13 July 2015 by Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Housing Minister Brandon Lewis. The Commission was originally announced by the Mayor and Chancellor George Osborne in February this year as part of the long-term economic plan for London. It has been established as part of a coordinated effort between City Hall, government and boroughs to free up surplus public land in London to build at least 400,000 homes in the city by 2025.
The Commission’s remit is as follows:
- Develop a robust brownfield register for publicly owned land, bringing together existing data and sourcing new data from public bodies in London
- Establish a strategy for prioritising public land release (around transport nodes and within Housing Zones and Opportunity Areas)
- Explore opportunities for collaboration and changes to improve procurement activities to accelerate new housing supply
- Develop a capital investment programme to incentivise land release and target investment to unlock housing around infrastructure
The Commission will meet quarterly and will be co-chaired by the Mayor and the Housing Minister who will determine the membership of its board which will be a policy advisory group for the Commission. The Commission’s first meeting, held at City Hall, was attended by representatives of London Councils, NHS England, Transport for London and Network Rail as well a key government departments such as the Department of Health. At this meeting it was announced that real estate research firm Savills has been appointed to compile the preliminary stages of a so-called ‘Domesday Book’ of all brownfield public land in London, to be completed by the end of 2015. Once collected, City Hall will use the data to map the spread of sites across the city. It is thought to be the first time such a comprehensive set of data has ever been collected for London. The Greater London Authority will utilise the new powers given to it in the Infrastructure Act 2015 to spearhead the Commission’s efforts. The Commission has been awarded £1 million in initial funding by government.
In a research report published by Savills last Autumn their analysis of the assets held by the GLA (and bodies it controls such as Transport for London) showed space for an additional 100,000 homes but this number did not include assets held by the NHS or the 32 London boroughs. Savills considered that the capacity of local authority land was unclear given the lack of transparency regarding the extent of local authorities’ landholdings. Earlier this year the Government published a new Transparency Code for local authorities requiring them to establish and annually publish a land asset register with details of any land and buildings in which the authority has an interest with limited exceptions for land such as public highways.
In May this year Greg Clark the Communities Secretary called on local authorities to “lossen their grip” on surplus land and property and release such land and property for housebuilding. It was also announced as part of the Queens Speech that a Housing Bill would be laid before Parliament containing proposals to introduce a national register of brownfield land – which would include publicly and privately owned brownfield land - to help achieve a target of putting Local Development Orders in place on 90% of suitable brownfield land sites by 2020.
It is interesting to note that only 7 London boroughs were able to provide information on the amount of brownfield land they owned in response to a recent Freedom of Information Act request sent to them by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Chamber observed that : “the current lack of information and release of data on brownfield land by London local authorities as highlighted by our FOI responses is hampering progress on utilising public sector land for much needed housing.” It is to be hoped that the London Land Commission will be able to provide valuable assistance to the boroughs in their efforts to establish their brownfield land databases.