David Cameron is poised to announce a sharp rise in the number of brownfield sites owned by Whitehall departments which will be made available for developers to build new homes.
During the Tory party conference five weeks ago the prime minister said that sites for 50,000 homes had been identified after departments had come forward with unused land.
Now that figure has risen to 83,500, according to coalition insiders, making it likely that there will be a surge in homebuilding on government land in the coming years.
That announcement is set to form a key part in a housing strategy announcement by the prime minister later this month ahead of the wider growth review.
Five departments have so far come forward with brownfield sites under pressure from ministers including Francis Maude, who represents the Cabinet Office.
Grant Shapps, the housing minister, has pioneered a “Build Now, Pay Later” model – to be applied on many of the sites – whereby developers will not have to pay for the state-owned land until homes are complete, relieving pressure on their cashflow.
The Ministry of Defence has emerged as the biggest contributor to the scheme, having made available 29,500 plots on its estate. It was followed by the health department with 11,000, the Homes and Communities Agency with 11,000 and the environment ministry (Defra) with 10,000. The transport department has come forward with another 3,500 plots.
Ministers are now arm-twisting other departments and quangos to encourage them to offer up surplus land. That will then be followed by a fresh trawl, this time for smaller sites suitable for fewer than 40 homes.
“The government made clear we can only solve the housing crisis by building more homes, that is why we’re determined to bring forward derelict brownfield land that the government holds,” said Mr Shapps. “Our progress so far has been stunning”.
The Whitehall data suggests that builders have signed agreements for 18,000 of the total plots and negotiations are taking place for many of the other sites.
Ministers have also introduced a “Public Request to Order Disposal” encouraging members of the public to request the sale of public land that is under-used or vacant.
Yet the government still faces an uphill struggle given that planning permission approvals are currently at their lowest level for years. Only 25,000 applications were approved in the three months to July – suggesting the UK is on course to build less than half of the 240,000 homes needed each year to meet shortfalls.