More than 600,000 new homes could be created with the land that Britain's biggest housebuilders possess – four times the total number of homes built in Britain in the past year.
The government wants to build 1m new homes in England by 2020. This would mean building 200,000 a year, but the existing construction levels of just over 150,000 are well behind that.
The housing charity Shelter has said the figures showed how dysfunctional the housing market has become with Berkeley, Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey – the four biggest companies in the industry – accounting for more than 450,000 of the plots.
The nine housebuilders in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 which hold 615,152 housing plots in their landbank, are also sitting on £947m of cash and declared or issued more than £1.5bn in payouts to shareholders in 2015.
Toby Lloyd, head of policy for Shelter told The Guardian newspaper whose investigation uncovered the revelations said: "Developers do need a pipeline of future sites – but when housebuilding is still stubbornly low and landbanks are this large it is a signal of how dysfunctional our housebuilding system is.
"These are private companies so it's reasonable for them to seek profits. But when their profits are so high we should be questioning why the government is directing subsidies towards developers to build barely affordable starter homes and away from providing the genuinely affordable housing we so desperately need."
However the housebuilders told The Guardian that they were unable to speed up construction due to delays in getting planning permission and limited demand in some areas of the country.
John Stewart, director of economic affairs at the Home Builders Federation, said: "Over the past few years housebuilding has increased output at the steepest rate for decades with the most recent figures showing a 25% year on year increase in housing supply.
"The industry is recruiting and training tens of thousands of new people to ensure it can continue to deliver significant sustainable increases and provide the high quality homes the country needs," he told the paper.