On Monday I spoke on brownfield availability to the National Planning Forum, the principal cross-sectoral voice on planning issues. It was good to get engagement from fellow speakers, Malcolm Sharp of the Planning Officers Society and Nick Falk of Urbed, and the usual Forum selection of respected planning professionals - and get a feel for the significant shift in the way people have engaged with the brownfield agenda in the past few months.
A new year for brownfield
At the end of last month we launched our research on the availability of brownfield land for housing development; research done for us by Dr Danielle Sinnett and her team at the University of the West of England. You can read the report and its recommendations – for Government, local authorities, developers and communities.
The report recommendations appear to have been largely accepted by people across the sector, which is gratifying. It was reassuring to have a more up-to-date figure on land availability and interesting to find out about what was happening in specific local authorities. One important and often overlooked fact that the report highlighted was that brownfield land is not a finite resource: there is a constant ‘churn’ of new brownfield as some sites are built on while others come onstream as a site is no longer needed for its former purpose.
But of course there have been those who have argued it is just too expensive and difficult so we have been looking at ways to make brownfield development more feasible. A subsequent policy seminar on the report discussed issues such as whether more challenging urban sites were better suited for smaller developers who were better placed to come up with innovative solutions; how complex funding streams were in local contexts, and the need to join up planning for more effective land use.
Another issue that people often raise is the ‘NIMBY’ effect; that people don’t want new housing developments built near them. That this isn’t the case has been spectacularly demonstrated by our Waste of Space Campaign that we have been running for the past six months. We asked people to nominate brownfield sites near them that they felt should be used for housing in their area. As I write, we’re close to 400 nominations from across the country. And, most interestingly, although this is clearly not a scientific study, the most nominations come from London and south east, demonstrating that there is brownfield availability where demand for housing is highest.
The map will close for submissions at the end of the year so we’re currently looking at following up the waste of space submissions and deciding on the research is needed to follow up on brownfield use. The current ideas include looking in more detail at how local authorities are identifying development sites for consideration in their local plans; and at the amount of contaminated land.
One way we’re been looking at how we can make brownfield development easier is the series on papers produced by my colleague Luke Burroughs – he’s already blogged about these and another paper is due out in the new year. These papers are designed to help policy makers remove the barriers to brownfield development such as improved funding and assistance for brownfield remediation and encouraging small and medium-sized house builders into the market.
Reactions were generally positive in the wide media coverage we had but, more importantly, Government announcements around the autumn statement suggest that some of our messages are being heard. The recommendation on reviving the National Land Use Database is likely to lead to a renewed effort by Government to collect data. We don’t know what exactly will happen yet but an announcement is imminent.
The call for a more ‘proactive’ approach to bringing sites forward has also been taken up by the Government in the Autumn Statement itself, with a promise to make compulsory purchase easier on brownfield sites.
So – the new year is looking exciting for positive changes in this area and, of course, you can help: if you see any brownfield sites while you’re out and about at Christmas wanderings, do share them with us by:
- tweeting @CPRE with the hashtag #WasteOfSpace
- posting to Facebook #WasteOfSpace
Find out more
Download our reports: From Wasted Space to Living Spaces (5.8MB) and Removing obstacles to brownfield development (3MB PDF)
Help us find out how much brownfield land is available by nominating brownfield sites in your area that could be suitable for housing development in the future.