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Right to Contest could speed up public land sales but will it live up to its promise?

Only time will tell if the Right to Contest scheme will result in the release of more public land for redevelopment quickly, and at the right price.

In the meantime, developers and businesses should view the situation positively and be prepared to submit a challenge if they think a piece of land or property might have a better economic use.

The Right to Contest scheme, introduced by the Treasury in January 2014 allows developers, businesses and individuals to challenge the government to release any central government land or buildings for redevelopment, even if it is currently being used. Previously, such challenges were only possible if the site was not in use.

Despite the obvious benefits to such a scheme in terms of helping to release more sites for redevelopment, some scepticism is justified. The government has indicated that one of its main motivations for introducing the scheme is to raise funds to help pay off the significant budget deficit.

Furthermore, the government’s Strategic Land Review has set a target for the sale of at least £5bn worth of public land between 2015 and 2020. Clearly, another main driver is the need to raise a significant sum of money in a specific timeframe – so releasing more land for development and competitive pricing may not be as high on the priority list as at first seems.

Time will tell

In the meantime, there is potentially a huge opportunity for developers and businesses to acquire government land and buildings at competitive prices. Interested parties should bear in mind however, that nothing is guaranteed and only time will tell if the system does what it seems to say on the tin.

“It will be interesting to see if the government delivers on its promise to release land and property for redevelopment if it can be shown that it could have a better economic use”

Initial impressions are that the Right to Contest system will be made accessible by creating a consumer-style website that provides a detailed list of all sites that have been identified for disposal. Here, people can search by either postcode or location to view available land and property.

It’s good to have this level of visibility of course but it is only the first hurdle. The effectiveness of the sales and tendering process itself cannot yet properly be judged, but it will be interesting to see if the government delivers on its promise to release land and property for redevelopment if it can be shown that it could have a better economic use.

Transparency over their decision-making will be critical and the scheme states that a challenge can only be rejected if the land or property is considered ‘vital for operational use’ or for other ‘overriding reasons’.

Housing potential

The government has said that public sector land released since 2010 has the capacity for 62,000 homes. The fact that more of this is now up for grabs can only help the situation and help to achieve an increase in supply.

There’s no doubt that if the Right to Contest scheme is run efficiently and incorporates a fair and transparent tendering process, it will open up a much-needed source of fairly-priced redevelopment space and help to address the housing shortage. Of course, if successful, the scheme could help to reduce the deficit and bring long-term benefits for the economy.

As with other government-backed schemes, however, changes can be made at short notice. But for now at least, the opportunity is there to be taken.

Paul Hunt is a partner specialising in planning at Shakespeares

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