Yesterday, I looked at the land holdings of Network Rail, and the derisory amount that was scheduled to be released for new homes. However, it is not the principal culprit in terms of state land banking. In June, a land holdings report was published by the Ministry of Defence. It states that as of April 1st this year, the MOD owned 553,000 acres. That was only down by about one percent – 6,000 acres – on the previous years. That is bigger than the size of Surrey. Furthermore, the Ministry has “rights” to a further 512,000 acres. This seems to be land that is rented or owned on a short term lease. So the Ministry adds proudly: “On 1 April 2018, the total UK land holdings for the Ministry of Defence was 431,300 hectares.” That comes to 1.06 million acres – which is more than the size of Somerset.
Certainly, if the six thousand acres that have apparently been sold in the past year were made available for housing, that would be a useful contribution. With an average density of 12 homes an acre, that would mean 72,000 homes. But no doubt some of the land is destined for other uses – such as farming or golf courses.
An MOD spokesman tells me:
“We are currently reducing our estate so it supports military capability by being better quality and cost effective. It remains the intention to continue with the release of sites set out in the Better Defence Estate Strategy announcement in 2016.”
Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, could make a huge contribution easing the housing shortage. If he was to make a serious effort to identify more land that could provide sites for new homes and then release it for that purpose, that could be transformational. Supposing a hundred thousand acres was released – enough for over a million homes. That would still leave nearly a million acres for our soldiers to train on. Does anybody seriously claim that would not be sufficient?
Then there are question of the potential proceeds if a serious effort was made to increase the land sales. Land with permission to be developed for housing is worth between £600,000 and £1 million per acre. It is reported that Williamson wants an extra £4 billion of year of defence spending for anti submarine warfare and various other items. The Treasury have been reluctant to agree. I think I can spot the makings for a deal here. If tens of billions of receipts from land sales are cascading into the Treasury’s coffers, might they not be more amenable to Williamson’s requests?
The biggest threat to our national security would be Jeremy Corbyn becoming our Prime Minister. The MOD has the power to avert that threat – by allowing a massive increase in the housing supply.