Public Spending Watchdog Questions Government Housing Claims
Claims by ministers that the government has sold off public land to developers for more than 100,000 starter homes and the creation of as many as 25, 000 jobs by 2015 have been challenged by the National Audit Office, who have discovered that the data included sites sold off under Tony Blair’s government.
During the run up to this year’s election, it was claimed that the Conservative’s had earmarked and sold land for over 109, 000 new much-needed homes in an attempt to curb the ever-growing risk of a potential UK housing crisis.
However, it was discovered that these figures actually included land for 15, 740 of these properties that had actually been sold off under the stewardship of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It is believed that some of this land was sold off as far back as 1997.
The auditors also brought into question whether or not the government should have included land for 9, 000 homes after it was discovered that the land had actually belonged to privatised companies including Royal Mail and British Waterways.
The National Audit office claimed that the Coalition had “applied a wide interpretation” of plots of land to be included in the tally and criticised the government set after discovering that there was no economic evidence to support it. The figures actually detail a “notional” number of expected homes rather than conveying how many properties will actually be built.
The government countered the claims by informing the watchdog that they were “not adequately consulted” over increases to their targets throughout the course of the program and that that the new thresholds were “sometimes overambitious”. They further claimed that progress in selling off land was “slower than expected”. It also highlighted that a new target has been created that means that at least £5billion of land and property sales much be sold by 2020 and land earmarked and released for as many as 150,000 new homes.
However, there was more bad news for the government as the Meg Hillier, the incoming chair of the public accounts committee claimed that it was likely that the committee would examine the report due to the ramifications for the public purse: “It is hard to believe that it is not clear if all of this public land has been sold off at market rates. The government cannot assess the true worth, which is baffling. Housing is a key issue and this does not give me any confidence that the department has a grip on its own figures.”