Right to Regenerate – a community right or a Tory land grab?

RCKa’s map of Barking and Dagenham show over 6000 freehold sites in the borough

by Amanda Baillieu

The new ‘Right to Regenerate’, the Government’s latest proposal to force public bodies to part with its small sites, has not been popular with architects.  

They fear it will be private developers who will profit from the updated legislation rather than benefitting community groups or individuals at whom the measures are aimed.

Tim Sloan at Levitate Architects told the Architects’ Journal the proposals are “a Conservative-led land grab of public assets, and misguided criticism of under-resourced local authorities”.

I sat down with developer and Developer Collective co-founder, Gus Zogolovitch and architect Russell Curtis of RCKa to ask if they agree.

Curtis, who is creating a map of every freehold site in London, says the capital alone has “thousands and thousands of sites” that could be developed but “very few” are  being made available via the GLA’s Small Sites sites programme. 

He points out that local authorities lack the incentive to identify and then develop small sites because the financial return isn’t enough.

“Some local authorities are clearly very good at developing sites on their own land but it’s incredibly complicated and a phenomenal amount of work so why would they?  It makes no economic sense so they just go for the big regeneration schemes that can take 50 homes or more”, he adds.

One major challenge there is no easily accessible data of vacant land and derelict buildings in public ownership. 

“The data is out there but it’s incredibly difficult to find and it’s patchy. There are a series of spread sheets you can get from the Land Registry ….but it is thousands and thousands of sites. If you take Barking and Dagenham as an example, it has something like 6000 or more freehold bits of land – that is a huge area when you apply it across London and it is frustrating that when you walk around and see the sheer quantity of car parks and disused garages on which you could put housing and belong to local authorities, they are not coming forward”, says Curtis.

Zogolovitch says he has often found sites and then approached local authorities to see if they will sell.

“The site has been sitting  there for years and years and when you eventually  find the right person, they say  ‘oh no, we have plans for that’ which seems crazy”, he says.

Although the  public already has the power to request the sale of underused land under the  Right to Contest legislation, very few requests have been successful admit the Government.

Since 2014 only 192 requests have been made and only one has been granted.

Under the new proposals public bodies in England would need to show plans for land ‘in the near future’ - even if only a temporary use before later development. And if the land was ‘kept for too long’ without being used, public bodies could be forced to sell, with the public given the first right of refusal to buy it.

This means councils “are going to have to look at their land portfolio and ask realistically which bits of land they are going to build on”, says Zogolovitch. 

Another change proposed is that the person or group who found the land would have Right of First Refusal giving them the exclusive right to buy the site at market value for a period of time. 

“I think none of us would feel particularly comfortable if developers or even worse, land traders were getting these sites, selling them on for a profit because it feels that profit shouldn’t belong to them it should belong to the public 

I see it differently with self-builders and community housing groups because most of them just can’t find what they’re looking for on the open market”, he adds.

The consultation closes on March 13th