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Birmingham to pursue greater role for Compulsory Purchase Orders

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With the news on the 20th September that Birmingham City Council will forge ahead with its plans to make use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to seize vacant properties and undeveloped sites, ructions are continuing in some sectors of the housebuilding industry.

But is this cause for concern? If you’re sitting on a site unreasonably, yes. But this isn’t Hammer and Sickle politics, it’s more about getting a bigger stick.

Birmingham’s effort to make use of CPO powers on a much wider footing than is currently the norm is a natural development of what is becoming an increasingly cross party consensus, that the private sector isn’t delivering quickly enough.

There is evidence to suggest that there is a problem with permitted sites which have yet to be built out, the LGA earlier this year put the number of homes caught in limbo at 475,000. That’s a considerable increase on the historic norm and suggests either a significant rise in the granting of non-implementable schemes, or indeed a problem with land banking or other delays in coming through.

Birmingham’s move is a development of Ed Miliband’s “use it or lose it” approach, itself a product of a number of Labour figures. The coalition government of the time likewise did not further renew measures allowing for delay on the implementation of permissions introduced by the Brown government in 2009 in the midst of the crisis.

Home ownership and the reasonable expectation of ordinary Britons that they may at some point enjoy such a thing is of course central to Theresa May’s aspiration platform.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then to anyone that the pressure on the private sector to deliver is only going to grow.

But back to Birmingham’s approach, we’re not going to see Birmingham seizing vast tranches of private property anytime soon. Birmingham has been developing its thinking on vacant and unused sites since 2007 when it created a dedicated team. And the authority has long been using CPO powers to leverage improvements to housing stock. Since 2010 when CPO powers were put on the table, agreement has been reached without recourse to using compulsory purchase in 90% of cases.

Expect that to continue. There is much political capital in seeing this much higher profile measure which broadens out and takes in undeveloped land succeed. We might reasonably expect some high profile, problem sites to befall the new policy, but ultimately Birmingham wants to strengthen its ability to push the private sector to move faster, it cannot afford and nor does the authority want to seize property for its own sake.

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