How Birmingham is pioneering a 'use it or lose it' CPO policy

Birmingham City Council hopes to spur more residential development by seeking to compulsorily purchase and build out undeveloped sites allocated for housing where planning permissions have lapsed.

Birmingham: city planning to broaden use of compulsory purchase powers
Birmingham: city planning to broaden use of compulsory purchase powers

Last week, Birmingham City Council confirmed a decision to broaden the use of its compulsory purchase powers following a call from a scrutiny committee to reconsider the proposals. A report to the cabinet said that, over the last six years, the council had been "very successful" in persuading owners to bring their empty homes back in to use, in part due to the threat of the potential use of compulsory purchase powers. It proposed that the same approach could be used to "acquire sites in the private sector ... if necessary through compulsory purchase action".

Clive Skidmore, the council’s head of housing development, told Planning that the strategy was sparked by the number of unimplemented permissions and the need for more land for the council’s housebuilding arm to develop. "We have finite land and there are sites allocated for housing that have sat undeveloped for a long time," he said. The council estimates that sites with extant permissions could accommodate 8,000 homes.

The Department for Communities and Local Government’s housing supply director Isobel Stephen told peers earlier this year that "around a third" of homes granted permission nationally are not built out. In Birmingham’s case, Skidmore said he can "think of a dozen long-undeveloped sites off the top of my head", and that the council "will be contacting the owners asking if there is a role for us to step in". He believed that the majority of landowners would sell voluntarily if they did not want to develop - 90 per cent of empty homes that the council sought to compulsorily purchase were ultimately sold voluntarily, he said.

The Home Builders Federation (HBF) was satisfied that the council would give landowners the opportunity to develop. "Birmingham has a track record of working with developers and landowners to bring sites forward for housing. This policy could lead to more land coming forward," said Andrew Whitaker, HBF planning director.

Claire Fallows, partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, said that where CPOs are pursued and objected to, the secretary of state would consider whether the council’s proposals could be achieved by landowners. "The threat of a CPO will no doubt bring some landowners to the table. For the others, the council’s appetite to purchase compulsory purchase may be tested," she said.

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