The Right to Regenerate – bringing unused land back to life

Category: Commercial Property

The Government has launched a consultation on more effective ways to bring unused or underused public land in England back into use. The consultation is called ‘Right to Regenerate’.

What is the Right to Regenerate?

The fundamental principles are:-

  • A new Right to Regenerate enabling the public to require councils and public sector to sell unused land and assets;
  • Proposals for the public to have first right of refusal to purchase underused land in England;
  • Such land to be sold by default, unless there is a compelling reason not to; and
  • Make it simpler, quicker and easier for the public to transform vacant land and derelict buildings into homes, businesses or community spaces.

The basic idea is therefore that public bodies, including most councils, can be forced to sell vacant land or buildings. These measures are intended to provide an opportunity for local communities to redevelop and transform eyesores. They will help communities take control of unused land or buildings and transform them.

The Right to Regenerate is intended to prevent public bodies from sitting on derelict sites. Occasionally, local authorities have neither the intention nor means to develop. This would apply to empty social housing and garages, potentially completely transforming the local authority housing stock. However, the right would not apply to central government land.

Why has nobody thought of this before?

Well, they have. The Right to Regenerate consultation is in fact a review of the current scheme known as the Right to Contest. This scheme allows the public to request the disposal of unused or underused land that has been derelict or vacant for a long period of time. The aim of the scheme is to improve the attractiveness of an area and reduce anti-social behaviour. It enables central government to direct the sale of the land on the open market.

However, the effectiveness of the Right to Contest has been called into question, and the statistics appear to support this. Since 2014, 192 requests have been made to purchase such land – with only one request having been successful. Typically, refusals have been on the grounds that the owner – public authority – had future plans for the sites. The result of this being that many sites have remained unused.

How could this change things?

It seems that the Right to Regenerate will set a higher bar for local authorities. They will need to have clear plans for the use of the land in the near future. These will then be kept under review. Furthermore, greater transparency will be provided to ensure that such land is not simply being sat on. Such measures include requiring Councils to:-

  • Submit quarterly reports on the number of preliminary enquiries made;
  • Display physical and electronic notices where a request has been made to release a site; and
  • Publish all requests, together with their reasoning and outcomes, on councils’ websites.

There will also be a shift in impetus, with a presumption in favour of the disposal of such land – such that it will be for the local authority to show that it should not be sold.

Right of first refusal

Additionally, there is potential for the process itself to change – making it quicker and clearer to identify, purchase and redevelop the unused land. The consultation will consider whether the person who makes the application should get a right of first refusal to buy the land at market value. Ensuring that an applicant goes to the front of the queue may incentivise more applications.

The consultation is also inviting views on the definitions of ‘unused’ and ‘underused’ land in order to help guide and encourage the public to make requests.

To safeguard against the disposed land being sat on in the private sector as had been the case when in the ownership of the public sector, there could be a condition of the sale that land will only be sold to a party with the firm intention and means to redevelop the site.

The consultation closes on 13 March 2021, following which the government will consider the responses and decide whether to progress the Right to Regenerate with a view to empowering the public to pursue regeneration of public land for a more productive use.

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What now?

If anything in this article has stirred your interest, please contact our Commercial Property team. The team is lead by Nick Winslet, who can be contacted on 01752 827013 or at [email protected]. Nick and the team would love to talk to you about how they might be able to help you.

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