The Government has launched a consultation on whether to reform existing public rights relating to unused public land in England, to create a new, more effective and widely used right to regenerate land and property.
The existing Community Right to Contest
The public has an existing right known as “the Community Right to Contest”, which enables the public to challenge the Government to sell land or property held by the public sector, if the public believe it is not needed and could be put to better economic use.
The right relates to both central government land (Strand 1) and land held by local authorities and certain other public bodies including Transport for London, Civil Aviation Authority and British Broadcasting Corporation (Strand 2). The consultation relates only to Strand 2 land.
The existing right enables the public to request the disposal of such land or any property on that land, which is unused or underused, such as where it is longstanding vacant or derelict land or buildings. Such a request may be made in practice with a view for example to improving an area’s attractiveness and reducing anti-social behaviour and it is a last resort measure where the public body has either refused to dispose or not engaged. The relevant legislation enables the Government to direct that a site is disposed of on the open market.
Since 2014, 192 requests have been submitted under Strand 2, of which only one direction to order disposal was issued with 145 refusals and 9 still pending. So the Right to Contest in that sense has not been especially effective. Refusals arise mainly because the public body has a use/intended use for the land, or it is allocated in the Local Plan.
Improving and Relaunching as a new Right to Regenerate
The Government is keen to empower the public to challenge the inefficient use of public sector land, facilitating its better economic use such as through the building of new homes. The consultation examines the effectiveness of the Right to Contest to see whether it can be reformed to improve the efficiency and transparency of the process.
The Government’s current thinking is to relaunch a reformed Right to Contest as a new “Right to Regenerate”, which will provide the public with a quicker and easier way to identify, purchase and redevelop underused or empty land in their area. This will support greater regeneration of brownfield land, boost housing supply and empower people to improve their areas.
The consultation includes a series of questions on the Right to Contest and on related issues. They include whether the Government should:
offer a ‘right of first refusal’ to the applicant as a condition of disposal (to give time for example for a community group to raise money for a bid)
impose conditions on the disposal of land (for example, that a sale could only be to someone with the intention to redevelop a site).
introduce a presumption in favour of disposal when considering applications, so it is clear that disposals will be ordered unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.
Views are also sought on the meaning of “unused” or “underused” land.
The Government will consider the responses to the consultation to decide whether to bring forward reforms to the Right to Contest, to encourage the public to drive regeneration and more productive use of public land.
Click here for further details about the consultation and how to respond. The consultation closes on 13 March 2021.