The government is set to define unused or underused land, helping to guide and encourage the public to make requests in its proposals for the Right to Regenerate.
Under the plans the public can require councils and the public sector to sell unused and underused land and assets including buildings to turn them into homes, businesses and community spaces.
The public – individuals or communities are to have first right of refusal and land must be sold by default unless there is a compelling reason not to. The requester will have an exclusive right to buy the land at market value for a set time.
The plans include social housing and garages. There were over 25,000 vacant council owned homes and according to recent Freedom of Information data, over 100,000 empty council-owned garages last year.
Councils will have to have plans for the land and buildings, including temporary uses prior to development and if it is kept too long, then they would be required to sell it.
The plans are in line with a couple of key government policies, building on brownfield, and Build Back Better.
The government wants the plans to be fast and simple and the Secretary of State will act as an arbiter to ensure fairness and speedy outcomes in all cases. It will also be transparent with quarterly reports from councils outlining requests and their outcomes.
In 1980, Michael Heseltine introduced powers that form part of the current ‘Right to Contest’ - giving the public the power to request the sale of underused land owned by public bodies in England, and these were extended through the Community Right to Reclaim Land, in 2011.
But since the 2014 creation of the Right to Contest, only 192 requests have been made under this power and only one has been granted, having usually been refused because the owner had future plans for the land, which meant some sites were left unused for years.
The public bodies affected are set out in Schedule 16 of The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and is administered by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and does not include central government.
Reaction to the plans has been mixed. Mike Amesbury, shadow housing minister, said: "Labour welcomes any measures that put communities in control of development, but there remain serious question marks over this scheme." He said Mr Jenrick "must prove that these [changes] won't hand developers power via the back door".
Tom Chance, Chief Executive of the National Community Land Trust Network, said: "There are hundreds of community land trusts across the country wanting to build much needed affordable housing, but getting hold of land at an affordable price is a huge barrier.
"The potential for communities to be given first right of refusal could be a gamechanger. We encourage everyone to read through the proposals and respond to the consultation."
Kirklees Labour councillor Graham Turner, and cabinet member said the Right to Regenerate scheme was a cynical exercise in asset-grabbing and urged the government to drop its proposals. "As with all government announcements the devil will be in the detail. But from the details we have seen so far this looks very much like a vehicle for private property speculators to get their hands on publicly owned buildings and land.
"It would line the pockets of property speculators at the expense of residents and could put at risk any number of buildings in Kirklees owned by the council. Who might determine if a building is surplus to the council's requirements? Some unelected faceless Whitehall mandarin who has never set foot out of London and thinks we all walk round with flat hats and whippets?"
The consultation closes on 13 March.