Much of our countryside and green spaces are at increasing risk from development but we know all too well that there is plenty of previously developed, or brownfield, land across England that is suitable for development but isn’t being used. Indeed, the Government has been slowly accepting this: in the wake of CPRE’s Wasted Space campaign and Wasted Spaces to Living Spaces report in 2014 on the amount of brownfield land available, it has introduced statutory brownfield registers as part of the Housing and Planning Act to help address this issue.
Waste not, want not
Now, our analysis of 53 pilot Brownfield Registers, which are part of a pilot study organised by DCLG of 73 local authorities, suggests that there may be even more suitable brownfield land than previously thought. These pilot registers identify space for an estimated minimum capacity of 272,763 homes on brownfield land across the 53 local authorities. This is a far cry from the then planning minister Brandon Lewis’s 2014 assertion that there was a total of 5000 Ha with space for 200,000 homes across England. There is space for more than 75,000 homes in just 14 councils in the south east and east of England: brownfield sites are in areas of with high demand for new homes.
To try and put this into some form of national perspective we used a variety of methodologies to estimate the housing capacity of brownfield sites across England. These produced minimum estimates of between 1.1 to 1.4 million homes.
The pilot registers also show that almost two-thirds of identified sites have planning permission. However, where this information was given, only a third of those sites are actually being built. Government policy and financial support clearly needs to target overcoming barriers to brownfield development and getting these homes with planning permission built. The potential of small sites is significant. A total of 24,943 homes could be delivered on sites less than a quarter of a hectare in these 53 local authorities. These small sites could provide an opportunity for small house builders, and self- and custom builders.
The pilot study does have its caveats. Some of the sites in the pilot registers are not suitable for housing development due to being in an unsustainable location, or where the development would result in loss of land with high environmental, landscape or heritage value. This would mean that they should be considered unsuitable for development and should not be included on the registers. On the other hand, the pilot study does not represent a comprehensive search of brownfield sites – one council only recorded those brownfield sites that already had planning permission – so more sites are likely to come forward as local authorities carry out a wider call for sites.
In order for the statutory brownfield registers to fulfil their potential:
- Local councils and the Government should prioritise the use of suitable brownfield sites in urban areas over greenfield sites by amending the NPPF, in planning decisions and when considering the allocation of public money. The recently announced Home Building Fund may be a step in the right direction, but with only an ‘emphasis on brownfield land’ it does not yet go far enough to unlock the true potential of brownfield sites across England.
- The Government should be more ambitious and commit to getting houses built on suitable brownfield sites in addition to reinforcing its commitment to having planning permission on 90% of suitable sites by 2020.
- The Government should provide clear guidance on the ‘unmitigatable’ circumstances that should result in a site being excluded from the brownfield register.
Brownfield sites are a renewable resource. If less of it is being wasted, then perhaps we can have more of the homes England needs while protecting our environment and the countryside we love.
Find out more
Read our new report: Housing capacity on suitable brownfield land
Read the Brownfield sites developed six months faster than greenfield sites news release