While a crisis is underway and the need for more housing is huge, project developers deliberately leave their building land fallow for years in the hope of being able to make more money later.’ 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 on Endemol.
The broadcast consists 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 outside the built-up area. The joint surface provides space for approximately 150,000 homes. It is not nothing, but not too much either: it has the size of two annual productions of new construction. The central question is whether the 22 companies are deliberately letting their property go to waste in the expectation of a higher land yield. In the jargon, these are called stopped places.
Prof. Dr. Edwin Buitelaar published research on deadlocked sites in 2018. The result: in only 7 percent of cases is there more than two years between the issuance of a building permit and the house being put into use. So no problem. The research also gives no clue that the market parties structurally leave land undeveloped with the sole motive of collecting more later.
Striking by-catch: The municipalities are the biggest ‘loose’ to realize housing purposes on their land. In a comprehensive survey (April 2021) carried out by bureau Stec among municipal officials on the obstacles in housing construction, the retained plots dangle at the very bottom. In short: there is a lack of guidance that the phenomenon of locked seats is of significant importance 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 stalemate, but a conflict between KWP and the municipality over the building plan. If the municipal council comes to the conclusion that KWP does not fulfill its right to self-realization, it can proceed with expropriation. The councilor is considering it.
Tim Hofman firmly rejects in his broadcast that the municipality can do something if a municipality cannot reach an agreement after negotiations with a project developer. As evidence, 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 postponement of coercive (legal) measures, whether by the government or a private party, is generally not conducive to cooperation and therefore not to the speed of development either.’ That is of course true. I am co-author of this publication, which – after this general introductory remark – expands in 20 pages on the (power) instruments the municipality can use if the 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 Smakkelaarsveldet in the center of Utrecht. In AD Utrecht, project developer Arda Basak states: ‘We have not been asked to answer the question. Presenter Tim Hofman suggests that long wait times make us more money, but it’s also bad for us. Now we lack revenue.’
It was also claimed that Lingotto had already bought the land four years ago and that the relationship with the municipality is bad. That is not true, says Basak. “The plot was leased out ten months ago, when the final project was approved by the municipality after a careful process. We cooperate well and intensively with the municipality and all other parties involved.’ As with so many complex urban projects, the greatly increased construction costs hamper realization.
The question arises whether deliberate journalistic disinformation about the public television company (BNN/Vara) is justified. The entire broadcasting country cries out (rightly) against the nauseating broadcasts from Ongehoord Nederland. The Danish Media Agency will intervene. Tim Hofman’s fake news seems like a suitable next candidate.
Last week I was a guest at the family business Klokgroep’s 100th anniversary. The fast-growing builder and developer is number five on the 22 landowner charts. Together with colleague Professor Peter Boelhouwer, I was allowed to talk about the housing market in a packed tent. Hoffman’s failed product was also discussed there. My appeal: do not remain silent, but take responsibility and start the discussion. Show what you do and be transparent, also financially. Because this discourse does not end. The next station is the upcoming investigation by the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (ACM) of the stopped places and the self-realization principle. We are ready, with sharpened knives.