NHS estate is key to solving UK housing crisis

'If you don't need it, sell it' is message from experts after Government overhauls planning system

Planning experts are urging NHS trusts to sell surplus land for housing

NHS estates hold the key to solving the UK housing crisis, with trusts urged to take a lead in helping the Government build its way out of recession.

The true extend of surplus land within the NHS can be debated, but clearly the emphasis is that if you don’t need it, you have got to dispose of it

At last week’s IHEEM Conference in Manchester, David Diggle of planning consultancy, Turley Associates, said the healthcare estate had a ‘major part to play’ in Whitehall’s growth agenda.

“The Government wants to build itself out of the recession. It wants cranes in the air and diggers on the ground,” he said. “It is all about sustainable economic growth and everybody has a part to play in that.”

And with estimates that the amount of disused and underutilised space within the NHS is equivalent in size to London’s Hyde Park, the sector is expected to be a frontrunner.

“The Government expects the NHS to play a part by consolidating, rationalising and, if possible, disposing of land,” said Diggle.

This land is needed to fulfil ministers’ aims to build hundreds of thousands of new homes.

In the past the planning system has been really clunky and slow, but over the last 18 months it has been fundamentally overhauled. The time to engage is now

Diggle said: “The true extend of surplus land within the NHS can be debated, but clearly the emphasis is that if you don’t need it, you have got to dispose of it.”

In the past the country’s complicated planning system has made this difficult, but over the past 18 months the Government has overhauled the rules and this has left NHS trusts with the ability, not only to get rid of disused estate, but also to raise much-needed capital at a time when budgets are tight.

Diggle explained: “We now have a new national planning framework and guidance in place which is all about recovery and growth and delivering the infrastructure we need. It is all around providing new housing.

“Local authorities have to show that they have identified sites for new housing, so they are searching to suitable land. The opportunity is there for NHS trusts to take advantage of this.

“If the healthcare estate is not required, it can play a key role in delivering the Government agenda and provides a great opportunity for housing and suitable sites for employment.

The true extend of surplus land within the NHS can be debated, but clearly the emphasis is that if you don’t need it, you have got to dispose of it

“In the past the planning system has been really clunky and slow, but over the last 18 months it has been fundamentally overhauled. The time to engage in the planning system is now.”

For those trusts who have property to dispose of immediately, he advises securing outline planning permission from the local authority.

“There’s a window of opportunity to secure permission and trusts can do that themselves and then they can go straight to the market.”

Where disposals are several years away, he urged trusts to work with local authorities to earmark the sites in their mandatory five-year development plans.

“Local authorities are looking for sites and they need to allocate them in these plans,” Diggle said. “All local authorities have to do it and they want to know what land you have. If you can secure a positive allocation within these plans, it will provide you with security when you come to dispose of it a few years down the line.”

Turley Associates has already worked with a number of trusts to release land at Ashworth Hospital in Mersey side and Rossendale General Hospital in Lancashire.

Diggle said: “There are opportunities now within the new planning system. While planning rules are normally seen as a bit of a foe, they can now become a friend. Trusts will just have to think more laterally and literally.”

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