London’s mayor Boris Johnson has renewed calls for public sector departments to release land for housing. It is believed thousands of homes could be built on sites currently lying fallow, as bungling bureaucrats in the NHS, fire and police authorities and other public bodies fail to get moving.
The call for more “brownfield” sites to be released for housing development is a popular one – politicians love the idea as it takes the focus away from development in the countryside or on the edge of existing towns and villages. Yet despite regular pleas for redundant land to be brought forward for reuse, London officials revealed this week that their requests all too often fall on deaf ears.
Deputy London mayor Richard Blakeway said the NHS, in particular, simply fails to engage, telling the Standard: “Our frustration is that there are public bodies, in particular the NHS, that are sitting on huge swathes of land but have little focus on bringing it forward for development. In our last review of what land might be available, the NHS did not even provide a return.”
Among the sites sitting with weeds growing but nothing more, are St George’s Hospital in Hornchurch, which closed in 2012, the Dulwich Hospital that has stood unused since 2005, and Springfield Hospital in Barnes.
Speaking for the business community, baroness Jo Valentine, Chief Executive of London First, said: “Across London there are empty sites and redundant buildings owned by the public sector that could be much better used for housing. But there is no body dedicated to actually identifying where all this land is, so actually getting round to selling it happens at a glacial pace. First we need to give the mayor the power to create a 21st century Domesday Book for London so we know where this land is. Then we need to ensure he has the ability to get on with selling it using his trademark gusto.”