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Will the Infrastructure Bill help or hinder housing?

The bill is intended to help ease the housing supply problems, but might it have unintended consequences?

The government’s Infrastructure Bill 2014 proposes to give the Homes and Communities Agency, the national housing and regeneration delivery body for England, the power to acquire land outside London from public bodies to unlock sites for development and boost housing supply.

The government press release states that “this would reduce bureaucracy, manage land more effectively and get more homes built”.

It was announced last month by Boris Johnson that the bill will be amended to give the mayor a similar power in respect of publicly held land within the capital.

The rationale for this legislation is the worsening housing crisis across the country but particularly in the capital – a crisis borne out of a lack of available and affordable housing for buyers.

Government intervention targets shortage

This is the latest measure introduced to try to ease the problem.

“Some believe Help to Buy has added to the housing problem, driving up demand and therefore prices”

The government introduced the Help to Buy mortgage scheme in 2013, which was designed to assist homebuyers who could afford a mortgage but struggled to save a deposit.

Some believe the effect of the mortgage scheme has added to the housing problem, as more buyers are now able to buy, which is driving up demand and therefore prices.

The Infrastructure Bill intends to make more land available to property developers for residential development.

The hope is that freeing up the surplus or vacant publicly held land will ease the pressure on the market and create a healthier one for new houses that are within reach of buyers.

Terms of the bill not defined

However, interestingly, the bill makes no reference to the public land having to be surplus or vacant in order for it to be acquired.

The definition of what property can be acquired is also not limited, so it can apply to buildings, parks, beaches, forests and so on.

The power also extends to any property rights or liabilities; this could result, for example, in the loss of public rights of way.

“In the majority of cases, the delay in bringing land forward for development was due to viability and planning constraints”

Last year Mr Johnson threatened large housing developers who were sitting on landbanks with compulsory purchase orders unless they started building.

His reasoning was that constricting supply to push up prices by landbanking is against the economic interests of the city and is contributing to the housing problem.

However, in the majority of cases, the delay in bringing land forward for development was due to viability and planning constraints.

While the Infrastructure Bill will undoubtedly be welcomed by property developers, it will be interesting to see whether it will escape challenge from the public in relation to the loss of public land.

Nicola Walsh is a senior solicitor at IBB Solicitors

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