U.K. Criticized by Lawmakers Over Public Land Disposals

The U.K. government has failed to provide taxpayers with adequate proof that the sale of land has enabled it to meet its housebuilding targets, the Public Accounts Committee said.

In a report examining the disposal of public land, the cross-party panel of lawmakers accused the government of “wishful thinking dressed up as public policy” and said a more rigorous approach is needed now that new housebuilding targets have been set.

Faced with a growing housing shortage, the government expanded its land-disposal target late last year, saying it wanted to release enough to build 150,000 homes by 2020. The PAC said it’s hard to assess government claims that it more than delivered on an original target to release land for 100,000 homes by 2015 because the department responsible failed to record the number of properties built or under construction, or the sale proceeds.

“The government should be embarrassed by the failings uncovered,” Meg Hillier, the opposition Labour Party lawmaker who chairs the PAC, said in a statement accompanying the publication of the report on Thursday. “There is no means of knowing whether taxpayers are getting a good deal from the sale of their land.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to double the number of homes built for first-time buyers by the end of this Parliament by relaxing planning laws and culling the estates of major land-owning departments such as the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health.

The Department for Communities and Local Government must do a better job demonstrating that its land disposals are providing value for the British taxpayer, the PAC report said.

“With the next housing target already announced the government needs to learn from its mistakes,” Hillier said.

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