Regulations requiring local authorities to develop and publish brownfield land registers will come into force on Easter Sunday (16 April), giving us the opportunity to develop an accurate picture of the amount and whereabouts of brownfield land. As is traditional at this time of year, they offer new hope – for an increasingly reliable picture of the country’s brownfield capacity and, in my case, less time spent trying to work out the data independently!
Improving the brownfield picture
Our research last year, using the pilot Brownfield Registers, suggested there is space for at least 1.1 million homes on brownfield land in England.
However, this study also illustrated a number of caveats in the current way local authorities identify and assess whether or not a brownfield site is suitable for housing.
In identifying sites, the pilot local authorities were encouraged to look at a range of sources in their search for brownfield land. However, a number of local authorities relied solely on pre-existing research, such as a recent Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment and, in some cases, they only looked at sites that had been granted planning permission.
To make sure that this valuable resource is used to its full potential, we need a proactive approach to identifying sites.
Once a brownfield site has been identified, the regulations require councils to consider whether or not development is ‘achievable’ in the next 15 years. Then an assessment of the site’s availability for development in the short (0-5 years) or medium (5-10 years) term has to be made: a term in the regulations that relies very much on a willing landowner or developer. The final step is to assess whether or not the site is suitable for residential development, taking account of any adverse impact on the natural environment, local built environment and local amenity.
A decade ago, our research Untapped Potential showed how these sorts of assessments underestimated the potential of previously developed land; how the contribution of small sites is underestimated and how a proactive approach was essential in stimulating a sustainable urban renaissance. It seems likely that without appropriate guidance this is still likely to be the case.
So, ten years on, we are updating that research and hope to use it to support a call for better national guidance that will ensure a proactive, comprehensive search for suitable brownfield is undertaken in a transparent and consistent way. Going forward, we’ll be looking for ways in which we can encourage local community involvement in the search for brownfield land - to ensure thatthe right homes are built in the right places.