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Making the most of brownfield

Making the most of brownfield

Three years ago we asked our supporters to tell us about brownfield land they knew that would be better used for housing in our Waste of Space campaign – and hundreds responded. Their efforts and CPRE’s research From Wasted Space to Living Spaces, which demonstrated that there was room for more than a million homes on suitable brownfield land, helped prompt the Government to get councils to start identifying brownfield land in their area.

Now we have commissioned new research from HTA Design LLP, to see how effectively councils are identifying brownfield land in light of the brownfield land register regulations published last April. These require councils to publish registers of suitable brownfield land in their locality for housing development by the end of this month.

Brownfield comes in a wide variety of forms: from the derelict site, to supermarkets and their car parks, and the smallest of sites. Although most people think of brownfield land as being derelict former industrial sites, the government’s definition of ‘previously developed land’ also  includes sites of all sorts that are not currently in use, land that could be more efficiently used, and buildings that are currently in use but could become vacant in the near future.  Not all brownfield sites should be redeveloped – some should be retained, for example for their wildlife, heritage or recreational value. The registers provide an opportunity to identify these sites over the long term, highlight opportunities to ‘intensify’ and redevelopment potential to ensure that we make better use of our land that has already been developed, before building on new greenfield sites.

On top of this, the registers provide opportunities for councils themselves as more and more councils are looking to build new homes and the government is looking to attract small-scale developers. Permission in Principle, a new route to planning permission, aims to provide greater certainty earlier on in the planning process and could help this process.

Our new report Unlocking Potential is based on in-depth interviews with five local authorities and two industry experts, and finds that more needs to be done if Brownfield Land Registers are to fulfil their potential to unlock the housing capacity of brownfield sites.

First, Government must amend the National Planning Policy Framework and Guidance to encourage councils to consider a much wider range of brownfield, in particular small sites. CPRE has carried out a quick bit of number crunching on those registers that have already been published, and found that there should be room for almost 200,000 homes on ‘small sites’ if the proposed 20% small-site building target suggested by Chancellor Philip Hammond is to be met. These small sites can often be those locations that local communities most want to see redeveloped to remove a local eyesore or that fit in villages and market towns without creating sprawl.

The Government must also follow through on its promise to open up the Land Registry. This will ensure that councils are able to access the data they need to develop their Brownfield Land Registers.

And third, local authorities should explore new ways of working and engaging a wider range of stakeholders. Proactively engaging with local community groups can help identify these sites, such as those that communities are keen to see regenerated. Integrating approaches across different teams within councils and across the public sector could also help save time through automatic updates. A robust approach will enable the register to contribute to the council’s assessments on housing land supply and a comprehensive register will help to ensure homes are really delivered in the right places - and those spaces are no longer wasted.

Brownfield comes in a wide variety of forms: from the derelict site, to supermarkets and their car parks, and the smallest of sites.

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