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One step closer to a 21st Century Domesday Book for London

The Infrastructure Act recently received Royal Assent. The Act covers the Government’s proposals to fund, plan, manage and maintain the UK’s national infrastructure. It touches on a wide range of issues including reform of planning law.

Section 31 of the Act gives the Secretary of State the power, by order, to transfer land from a public body to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). This power supports a wider move from Government to use the HCA as a coordinating body for the disposal of surplus public land. The idea is the HCA will receive disused land owned by public bodies and will prepare the land for release to the market by working with planning authorities.

In London, the Greater London Authority (GLA) has assumed the powers of the HCA, yet the Infrastructure Bill, when first published, did not provide for equivalent transfers of surplus public land in favour of the GLA.

London First worked with the GLA to support amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords to amend the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to apply this new power to the GLA as well. This is reflected in Section 31 (6) of the Infrastructure Act.

Future regulations will detail the public bodies that are subject to this power and the type of property it covers. Government may also make regulations to address any tax effects of transfer schemes.

The transfer of surplus land will, however, only happen if a transfer scheme is made by the Secretary of State and if the provisions of the scheme are agreed to by the public body to which it relates.

Critical questions about this power remain, including:

  • the nature of public bodies to be subject to it;
  • the categories of land to which it applies;
  • the mechanism under which it will operate.

However, it means London is one step closer to having a coordinated approach to disposing of surplus public land across all the public sector in London, especially with the associated announcement of the London Land Commission.

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