Yesterday evening the Government announced some significant new proposals designed to encourage more development on brownfield land.
More homes on brownfield - is the Government on the right track?
The Department for Communities and Local Government outlined plans to resume the collection of data from local authorities on the amount of brownfield land suitable for housing in their area. This is a significant step, and one which CPRE has long supported.
As outlined in our recent brownfield report – From wasted space to living spaces – local authorities used to be impelled to submit data to the National Land Use Database (NLUD) on brownfield land available and suitable for housing. With the report demonstrating that at least one million houses could be built on brownfield land, such a tool would provide a much clearer idea of available sites, and put the power in the hands of Government and local authorities to specify areas for development.
Since compulsory submission to the NLUD ended, however, sites for development have been identified through Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments (SHLAAs). These are inconsistent in format and information across local authorities, making it difficult to create a regional and national picture of land available for development. Furthermore, in setting huge and largely unsustainable housing targets, SHLAAs have afforded disproportionate power to developers in identifying sites – many of which are inevitably on greenfield sites or in the Green Belt.
The decision to consult on reintroducing identification is, therefore, a very welcome move, and one which we are keen to contribute to.
The announcement to extend the use of local development orders (LDOs), on the other hand, is one we should treat with more caution. LDOs can speed up development. They save the developer having to apply for planning permission on many – if not all – the sites. We need far more assurance that such an approach will embrace high quality design, ensuring public transport links, safeguarding biodiversity where necessary, and incorporating much-need affordable housing. There are particular concerns about whether local authorities will be able to require that a proportion of affordable or social housing is built when using an LDO to grant planning permission.
We believe that in the longer term, the most effective means of encouraging brownfield development will be to reduce the scope for developers to cherry pick easier greenfield sites. Since reforms to national planning policy were introduced in March 2012, developers have been allowed time and again to build on greenfield land even when there are plenty of brownfield sites available for development in the local area. National planning policy needs to change.
All things considered, though, it is to be noticed and welcomed that ministers and shadow ministers are making increasingly positive sounds on brownfield development. The Government’s recent Housing Zones funding and brokerage pledge, where local authorities can bid for the creation of areas specified for housing development mainly on brownfield land, will speed up much needed development in areas like Stoke city centre. Indeed, many of the zones are ones we have previously identified, and in which we support housing development. Further Housing Zone allocation could surely be encouraged, particularly as they are funded by loans repayable with interest.
While both main parties have recently made extremely positive noises about brownfield being developed first, we would like to see such a policy enshrined in party manifestos, and then in planning legislation post-election. The reintroduction of transparent reporting is an important step in this direction.
Find out more
Download our reports: From Wasted Space to Living Spaces (5.8MB PDF) and Removing obstacles to brownfield development (3MB PDF)