The Government is consulting on a new Right to Regenerate. Here Mark Walton sets out our response and the thinking behind it.
The Government is currently consulting on proposals for a new Right to Regenerate to replace the current Right to Contest by which the public and private companies can request the disposal of publicly owned land that is vacant, derelict or under utilised. They claim that this will “provide a quicker and easier route for individuals, businesses and organisations to identify, purchase and redevelop underused or empty land in their area” and lead to “greater regeneration of brownfield land” which would “empower people to turn blights and empty spaces in their areas into more beautiful developments.”
However we are concerned that the right only covers public derelict or vacant land, only considers financial value and will largely be used to expand the private market for housing land – simply replicating rather than addressing the failures of the land and housing markets and their impacts on communities.
We recognise that land that is left vacant or derelict for long periods can act as a blight on communities, and have previously published a guide on how it can be transformed using community led models. We therefore welcome the idea that people should be able to lead the regeneration of their local area by gaining access to, and control over, the land buildings that currently blight the places they live. However we are concerned that the current proposals will not act as a tool for community led regeneration but will only serve to provide another route for public land to be transferred to private hands.
The Government’s proposal continues to see land only in terms of its financial value and misses an opportunity to see land in a wider value framework and enable a more genuinely collaborative approach, where the public sector and communities could work together to develop proposals for vacant and derelict land in order to deliver a wider range of social, economic and environmental benefits.
Rather than simply enabling anyone to request that public authorities relinquish a valuable and shrinking public asset into the private market we believe that any new right should prioritise requests led by democratically accountable and / or asset locked organisations with a clear community or public benefit purpose, such as local authorities, town and parish councils, community land trusts, charities, social enterprises and community businesses.
It is unarguably the case that the damage caused by derelict and vacant sites is the same no matter who owns them, and the Government’s own figures indicate that most are privately owned. We therefore believe that the right should be extended to cover privately owned land. Furthermore, where there is a viable plan for regeneration of the site in place, we think that it should be made easier for local authorities to either compulsorily purchase or force the sale by public auction of privately owned long term vacant or derelict sites in order to facilitate local regeneration efforts. The right should therefore also provide a mechanism for communities to petition or request local authorities to utilise these powers where they have a viable plan for the regeneration of a privately owned vacant or derelict site.
Critically we believe that in order to provide a level playing in terms of access to information, such a right will require the provision of clear, accessible and transparent data on the location, boundaries and ownership of sites which meet a clear definition of vacant or derelict, whether these sites are in public or private ownership.
Our key recommendations are that any new Right to Regenerate should:
- Cover land and buildings in both public and private ownership.
- Respect and strengthen local and community level democracy, and be coherent both with the NPPF objective of achieving sustainable development through Local and Neighbourhood Plans, and with the community rights set out in the Localism Act 2011.
- Provide clear definitions of what constitutes unused or derelict land, and require the provision of clear, accessible and transparent data on the location and ownership of sites.
- Prioritise use of disused, underused or derelict land by democratically accountable and / or asset locked organisations with a clear community or public benefit purpose, such as local authorities, town and parish councils, community land trusts, charities, social enterprises and community businesses.
- Ensure that sustainable development is addressed by making assessment of future use based on its potential to contribute to sustainable development through the creation of social, economic and environmental (rather than just financial) value.
- Enable public authorities to place constraints on the development of such sites to ensure that they meet wider social objectives and deliver community value rather than simply enter the existing land and housing market e.g. through Supplementary Planning Guidance or other means.
- Empower public authorities to automatically refuse requests made under the right which will serve only to expand private property with no public access or other community benefit provided.
- Enable local authorities to act strategically with respect to vacant or derelict sites by making it easier for them to either compulsorily purchase sites at current use value or a value based on the planned future use, or to force the sale by public auction of privately owned long term vacant or derelict sites where there is a viable plan for regeneration of the site in place e.g. by introducing Compulsory Sales Orders.
- Provide a mechanism for communities (through qualifying organisations) to petition or request local authorities to utilise the powers outlined in 8 above where they have a viable plan for the regeneration of a privately owned vacant or derelict site.
- Exclude or protect long term strategic assets such as public farmland.