Tories disagree about compulsory land purchase for housing

Wonder where Swire stands on this?

“Labour’s plan to force the cheap sale of land to the state to boost housebuilding has been branded “deeply sinister” by Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury, but the proposal has exposed a split in the Conservatives with influential Tory backbenchers backing the plan.

The shadow housing secretary, John Healey, told the Guardian on Thursday that a Jeremy Corbyn-led government could use compulsory purchase powers to buy land at closer to agricultural value rather than paying up to 100 times more, the kind of mark-up that land zoned for housing can currently fetch.

The proposal is intended to reduce the cost of building new council housing but Truss responded on Twitter saying: “First the utility companies, then the landowners. Who next? #freedomerosion #confiscation”.

She said she could not support the state imposing prices on landowners or private companies, adding: “We need more market not less.”

Nick Boles, the former Tory planning minister, who supports a similar policy to Labour, denied it was sinister and replied to Truss: “Why should a few landowners receive all of the windfall profit from planning permission when the taxpayer bears the cost of infrastructure?”

He argued that existing prices of development land aren’t the product of market forces.

“They’re the product of artificial scarcity created by the nationalisation of development rights and the introduction of the planning system,” he said.

Former education minister Robert Halfon also said he was sympathetic to the idea and said it was “an option we should look at”.

“We have to rapidly solve our housing crisis and we need to build social housing quickly,” he said. “We need to seriously look at this kind of thing and see the evidence on whether it would make a difference or not.”

Sajid Javid, the housing secretary, is examining proposals to remove planning permission from those who build too slowly. Oliver Letwin, the former Downing Street policy chief, is due to publish a review of land-banking later this year.

Landowners warned that small farms could suffer from the Labour proposal, which they described as “seeking to forcibly remove their assets at artificially low prices”.

“Compulsory purchase of land should only ever be a last resort and in practice it is far more likely to be small family farms that suffer, not the big players who have far more means to defend themselves,” said Christopher Price, policy director at the Country Land and Business Association which represents over 30,000 landowners across rural England and Wales.

Paul Smith, managing director of Strategic Land Group which makes money by securing planning permission for greenfield sites and sharing in the uplift in value, also attacked the plan.

“Land values are a consequence, not a cause, of house prices,” he said. “The industry and government should pool its collective wisdom and have a proper conversation around finding a workable solution to freeing up land – there are surely more straightforward ways to release land for development which should be fully explored.”

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