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HCA set to become government hub for public land sales

The Homes and Communities Agency is in line to manage the sale of public land across government departments as chancellor George Osborne seeks to boost housebuilding, despite concerns that the HCA has itself underperformed.

Mr Osborne will give control of all public properties due for sale to the HCA to prevent departments from slowing sales to benefit their budget figures, under a policy that will be a central theme of his autumn statement on 5 December, according to the Financial Times.

The HCA is already the third-biggest owner in Whitehall of surplus sites with housing development potential.

It is now set to gain control of land from nine departments, with the majority expected to come from the defence, environment, health and transport and the Olympic Delivery Agency, said the FT.

Industry clamour has been growing for public bodies to make their assets available for development.

However, an analysis by CN suggests the HCA only managed to sell 700 ha of land in the 10 months to September this year, as its assets fell from 10,921 ha in November 2011 to 10,203 ha.

Despite the figures, HCA chief executive Pat Ritchie told CN in September she was confident the body was “more actively using our land estate to accelerate the use of land to boost housing supply”.

She added: “We’ve delivered our targets we set last year, and we’re on track to deliver this year.”

The HCA took on around 3,300 ha of assets owned by the axed Regional Development Agencies in 2011, in what then business minister Mark Prisk called a “stewardship” until further investment had taken place.

HCA head of land regeneration Clare O’Shaughnessy said there was a “real push” from the HCA and central government to back the transfer of land into private hands, using deferred receipts “where appropriate”.

She told CN about 230 ha had been transferred to the Greater London Authority, as well as about 410 ha to other local authorities and 150 ha in freehold sales.

The government has previously promised to speed up the release of surplus public sector land “by strengthening the role of the HCA outside London through a targeted programme of transfers from other government departments and agencies”.

It has also committed to “accelerate disposals by preparing the land for market and providing a single ‘shop window’ for all surplus public sector land”.

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