Andrew Motions ‘1.5 million’ Homes on Brownfield Land – What is the Evidence?

Andrew Motion – CRRE President-has thankfully stopped talking, confusingly, about 1.5 million brownfield sites but instead ‘

There are enough brownfield sites in England to accommodate 1.5m homes close to jobs, services and infrastructure.

That is much better, but what about the claim.  The 1/5 million figures comes from sadly out of date NLUD data but used selectively, as not all of these are suitable for housing or ‘close to jobs, services and infrastructure.’ 

As NLAs analysis of NLUS shows 

NLUD sites have capacity of c.1m when needs over the next fifteen years are for 3.3m new homes. Even if there are further sources of untapped potential, the national gap is likely to be very significant.

Of course brownfield sites are not a fixed stock, new brownfield sites are being created all the time, but I have seen no analysis suggesting that the future likely flow of brownfield sites will be of a scale to meet anything like the flow required to meet housing need plus backlog over the next 15 years.  This is not to suggest that the rate of flow of brownfield sites cannot and should not be increased, particularly in the short term.  But there is no evidence that it is possible over the lifetime of all local plans to nationally meet full objectively assessed needs whilst at the same time not increasing the rate of greenfield releases over that timescale.

NLP again

excluding London, almost a fifth (18.6%) of brownfield capacity lies outside built up areas, typically on sites such as old airfields and former industrial areas, some of which may not be well located in terms of transport accessibility or in proximity to jobs and services.

So there is no evidence that ‘There are enough brownfield sites in England to accommodate 1.5m homes close to jobs, services and infrastructure. ‘  The true figure is somewhere between 8000 Thousand to 1 million.  So Andrew Motion was exageerating brownfield potential by up to 100%.  rember the way he framed the issue was in terms of current stock of brownfield sites not future flow.

NLP again:

Only in London and the North West is there any significant capacity for brownfield land to meet housing requirements. In London almost half of the projected new homes that the city requires up to 2030 could be met by brownfield sites (at present, the remaining half largely goes unmet). Around 1m new homes are required around London (in the South East and East of England), but there is brownfield capacity equivalent to just a fifth of this. In the South West and East Midlands there is also only enough brownfield capacity to meet around a fifth of projected household growth. Even within regions, not all of the
brownfield capacity is in locations where people want to live or where job growth is greatest.

What precisely is the CPRE line?  Is it that we are building too many home in the countryside, or in the wrong place in the countryside?  Clearly they rightly say that we should be building more on brownfield sites.  But we are building only half or less of the housing we need, are they claiming that it would be possible to meet that need in full and still reduce the rate at which we build in the countryside.  If there are then I think they have a duty to commission and publish research showing firstly where, secondly how, and thirdly in which way it could be financed and made viable.  If they are not able to ‘show and tell’ then skeptics will still claim that when push comes to shove they would be happy to see very low levels of house-building if it meant less building on Greenfiled sites, and they would be very happy if they caused such a commotion and political panic that a government of whatever political persuasion would panic and u turn creating a situation where housebulding groound to a halt.

Dont get me wrong, I think density on brownfield sites can and should be much higher, but making this viable is another issue and would require major goveernment subsidy, and even then it would not be anything like anough especially in the areas highlighted in the NLP report, new urban extensions and Garden Cities, rather than the scattergun of the NPPF ruining villages everywhere.





6 thoughts on “Andrew Motions ‘1.5 million’ Homes on Brownfield Land – What is the Evidence?

  1. >> What precisely is the CPRE line?

    Fluid or flexible I would say.

    CPRE claims to support rural regeneration – but when push comes to shove they simply want to preserve the countryside in aspic.

    I used to believe that the CPRE was an insightful & well intentioned body – but I am now beginning to feel that the CPRE is simply acting for the comfortably positioned rural middle & upper classes and also for certain intelligentsia who have a rose tinted view of the role of the countryside.

    We can & should redefine & rework the countryside so that it has a dynamic future whilst maintaining its beauty and environment … but I doubt the CPRE is suited for involvement in such an initiative.

  2. Surely brownfield sites are not restricted to urban areas. I can think of several rural places near me that are, within the definition, brownfield having been used, for example for tin mining.

  3. The trouble with brownfield sites is that – even in cases of apparently light industrial use – you can get significant ground contamination.

    This can often require removal of large amounts of topsoil, laying of a special membrane with a lifetime of 100 years or more and then you need to recover with clean soil.

    This is a major and expensive task … and you still end up with housing built over toxins, separated by a plastic sheet.

    An abandoned tin mine / processing plant could score high on the ‘you must be joking’ scale! Not sure if I would want to raise children there ….

  4. Hi Andrew, the CPRE line on why we support brownfield first is at . It’s unclear where NLP get their 1million figure from, or the regional figures they quote. But the most recent published NLUD report (based on 2010 returns) states that the amount of brownfield land available for development has actually grown since the figures were issued which Andrew Motion quotes.

    In 2009 there were about 31,000 hectares of brownfield land suitable for housing. In 2010 there were 34,000 ha. If one takes the average density of development achieved on brownfield land (53 dwellings per hectare, according to the Government’s Land Use Change Statistics), then based on the 2010 figures we could actually achieve 1.8 million new homes on suitable brownfield sites.

    There is much more brownfield land on top of this (nearly another 34,000 ha again) that is not classed locally as suitable for housing – typically old airfields or factories where the local authority wants to bring in new employment instead.

    Will this figure have changed much since 2010? Given the recent economic downturn, and resultant slowing in building on development land, perhaps the amount of brownfield land available for development has not changed as much as some are making out. We do agree that this is an important area needing further research, and CPRE is commissioning this with the aim of reporting later in the year.

    • Thanks its a shame CPRE has to fill in the gap caused by NLUD being left to wither. Will NLP respond? I guess its from their database of sites that are suitable AND available and viable, either way its shows there is a potential stock of well over 1/2 million brownfield sites that might be grought into use if a more proactive stance was taken regarding public aquisition and funding.

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