In Sweden, local governments’ practice of the ‘municipal land instrument’—that is, the use of public land ownership as a tool for facilitating urban development—has a long tradition. In the post‐war era, public land ownership constituted an important component of state‐led housing production, which had both a productive and a redistributive purpose. Departing from a political economy perspective, this article demonstrates how the redistributive aspect of the municipal land instrument has been dissolved under neoliberalization, and discusses why the use of this instrument is problematic from both a democratic and ethical point of view. Based on a case study in Helsingborg, the article argues that, in using public land to leverage private investment in urban development, local decision makers adopt an interest in supporting rent extraction from tenants and housing owners, while subsidizing investment costs for developers. The dual role that municipalities assume as landowner‐developers and planning authorities enable them to facilitate urban development effectively, but it is also problematic because it transgresses the public–private law divide inherent to Swedish law. Assuming this dual role, municipalities place themselves in a biased position that risks undermining the legitimacy of governmental actions in general, and the planning system in particular.
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