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Creating a ’21st Century Domesday Book’ for London

In February, George Osborne announced the creation of the London Land Commission in a joint speech with London Mayor Boris Johnson. The Chancellor went further in the Budget, committing £1m a year to the Commission.

In conjunction with law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, London First is publishing ‘From Wasted Space to Living Place’, the first analysis of the task ahead, assessing the opportunities and challenges facing the Commission in delivering much-needed housing in the capital.

The Commission is tasked with developing a comprehensive database of surplus public land in London – a 21st Century Domesday Book. This was a key ask of London First in our 2014 report Home Truths, which set out 12 steps for solving London’s Housing Crisis.

The report argues that this presents “a tremendous opportunity to make real inroads into London’s housing shortfall” when combined with new powers in the recent Infrastructure Act.

However, it also concludes that the Commission has big hurdles to overcome, arguing that it must have real power rather than becoming a talking shop.

To read the full report click here.

A summary of the report’s findings:

The London Land Commission’s two principal objectives should be:

• to set a realistic target date for working out what public land and assets are surplus and, in turn, are suitable and viable for housing. The majority of the data collection and initial analysis should be completed before the Mayoral Election in May 2016; and

• to establish a rolling yearly target for moving surplus land and assets forward for release. A good, if arbitrary, target would be ten to fifteen per cent of the land identified (after allowing a suitable period for bedding in and start up).

To help the Commission achieve these objectives, immediate progress could be realised by:

• giving the Greater London Authority (GLA) access to e-PIMs, the Government’s Property and Land asset database, to assess surplus government land in London, equivalent to that enjoyed by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) elsewhere; and

• The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the GLA agreeing a protocol equivalent to the September 2014 DCLG/HCA protocol. This would provide a swift mechanism for transfer to GLA of surplus land held by government bodies where it is viable and suitable for housing development.

In the longer term:

• the government should legislate to ensure that a statutory duty is placed on all parts of the public sector to maintain an accurate, legible, searchable pan-London register of their land assets and placing details of all surplus and potentially surplus land and assets on an e-PIMS equivalent London database; and

• a process should be introduced to allow the Greater London Authority – if it wants to – to acquire from all public sector bodies surplus land as under the e-PIMs system operated and the DCLG/HCA protocol.

The Mayor should establish now an independent division within the GLA charged with:

• liaising with the London Land Commission;

• performing a similar role within London to the Government Property Unit across the UK – advising on the management of land and assets to ensure that priority is given to bringing forward surplus and potentially surplus land/assets especially for housing;

• assisting in coordinating land disposals between organisations for greatest benefit and effect; and

• managing transferred land/assets pending its ultimate re-use.

Read more about our work on London’s housing

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