Last edited 19 Jan 2021

Right to contest

In England, in 1800, just 10% of the population lived in towns and cities, now the figure is 90%. England is the third most densely populated major country in the world, and our population is projected to increase from 52 million in 2010 to 62 million in 2035 (ref ONS: Population Projections).

In 2011, a report from the Institute of Public Policy Research warned of a housing black hole, suggesting that there would be a shortfall of 750,000 homes by 2025. (Ref IPPR: England faces 750,000 housing gap by 2025).

This puts our land under considerable pressure for development, and yet our urban areas have vacant sites with hoardings around them, unused buildings with broken windows, closed-down shops, factories and warehouses and car parks sprawling across waste ground.

The government owns over £330 billion of land and property. It is estimated that central and local government hold around 40% of developable sites and around 27% of brownfield land (land which is, or was, occupied by a permanent structure) that are suitable for housing.

Since 2011, the Community Right to Reclaim Land has allowed communities the right to ask that under-used or unused land owned by public bodies was brought back into beneficial use.

On 8 January 2014, the Right to Contest, extended this to allow businesses, local authorities and members of the public, to challenge the government to sell a site. It is intended to facilitate development of publicly-owned sites to boost local growth and to contribute to paying down the deficit.

Sites can be contested simply by filling out a form explaining why the site is potentially surplus and could be put to better economic use.

Where land is owned by a central government department or one of their arms’ length bodies, there is a Right to Contest if:

  • The site is potentially surplus or redundant.
  • It could be put to better economic use.
  • It is in use, but operations could be moved to a different location.

If the department agrees to sell the site, then the case is closed. However, if it sets out reasons to keep a site, Ministers will decide on the best course of action. This should take 6 weeks for simple cases.

Where land is owned by a local authority (or other identified public bodies such as Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police Authority and so on), there is a Right to Contest if:

  • The site is empty or it is under-used.
  • There are no plans to bring the site back into use.

These cases will be considered by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

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