While a crisis is underway and the need for more homes is enormous, project developers deliberately leave their building land fallow for years in the hope of being able to earn more later on.’ Shame! This is the literal core message of the TV program ‘Take the power’ by Tim Hofman. This Hofman has achieved hero status by exposing the ‘Me too’ affair at Endemol.
The broadcast is made up of nonsense, half-truths and manipulated information. First the facts. According to research (2022) by ‘Follow the Money’ and Cobouw, 22 market parties own at least 6,000 hectares of land, 80 percent of which is located outside the built-up area. The joint surface provides space for roughly 150,000 homes. That is not nothing, but also not too much: it has the size of two annual productions of new construction. The central question is whether the 22 companies consciously let their property be wasted, in anticipation of a higher land yield. In the jargon these are called stalled sites.
Prof. dr. Edwin Buitelaar published research into stalled sites in 2018. The result: in only 7 percent of the cases, there is more than two years between granting the building permit and putting the house into use. So no problem. The research also offers no leads that market parties structurally leave land undeveloped with the sole motive of collecting more later.
Striking by-catch: municipalities are the biggest ‘loiterers’ in realizing residential uses on their land. In an extensive survey (April 2021) by bureau Stec among municipal officials into the obstacles in housing construction, the item stalled sites dangles at the very bottom. In short: there is a lack of guidance that the phenomenon of stalled sites has substantial significance in the Netherlands.
The first concrete example that Hofman presents is the Metterswaene residential tower project by Kondor Wessels Projectontwikkeling (KWP), near the station in Nijmegen. This is not a stalled site, but a conflict between KWP and the municipality about the construction plan. If the municipal council comes to the conclusion that KWP is not fulfilling its self-realization right, it can proceed with expropriation. That is what the councilor is considering.
In his broadcast, Tim Hofman firmly denies that the municipality can do anything if a municipality cannot reach an agreement after negotiations with a project developer. As proof, he uses this quote from the Guideline ‘Preventing delays in housing construction with land policy’, a publication of the Ministry of the Interior (2022): ‘The deployment of compelling (legal) measures, whether by the government or a private party, is is in general not conducive to cooperation and therefore also not to the speed of development.’ That’s right, of course. I am the co-author of this publication which – after this general introductory remark – expands for 20 pages about the (power) instruments the municipality can use if cooperation with the market party unexpectedly breaks down. So Hoffman is lying.
The second practical example that Hofman presents concerns Lingotto’s project on the Smakkelaarsveld, in the center of Utrecht. In the AD Utrecht, project developer Arda Basak states: ‘We have not been asked to answer the question. Presenter Tim Hofman implies that waiting a long time brings us more money, but that is also harmful to us. Now we are missing turnover.’
It was also claimed that Lingotto had already bought the land four years ago and that the relationship with the municipality is bad. That’s not right, Basak says. ‘The land was leased out ten months ago, when the final design was approved by the municipality after a careful process. We work well and intensively with the municipality and all other parties involved.’ As with so many complex inner-city projects, the sharply increased construction costs are hampering the realization.
The question arises whether deliberate journalistic disinformation on the public broadcaster (BNN/Vara) is justifiable. The whole broadcasting country is (rightly) clamoring against the nauseating broadcasts of Ongehoord Nederland. The Media Authority is going to intervene. Tim Hofman’s fake news seems like a suitable next candidate.
Last week I was a guest at the 100th anniversary of the family business Klokgroep. The fast-growing developer and builder is number five on the 22 landowners’ charts. Together with colleague professor Peter Boelhouwer, I was allowed to talk about the housing market in a full marquee. Hoffman’s misproduct was also discussed there. My appeal: don’t be silent, but take responsibility and start the discussion. Show what you do and be transparent, also in financial terms. Because this discourse does not end. The next station is the forthcoming investigation by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (ACM) into the stalled sites and the self-realization principle. We are ready, with sharpened knives.