Is a revived ‘Brownfield First’ Policy Practical or Possible

Hilary Benn yesterday at the CPRE annual lecture confirmed that a labour government would bring back ‘brownfield first’ one of thefew NPPF policy changes they would make.  Is this practical or possible?

The problem is that the policy was always poorly framed and as such undoubtedly helped slow the rate at which land was allocated for housing.  There is nothin g to stop LPAs now including brownfield first in local plans if they have 5 years supply.  The fact that few have or can shows there was an underlying problem that has not gone away.

The problem was that the original policy was framed as if there was a ‘stock’ of brownfield is not it is a flow where new sites are coming on stream all the time and some brownfield sites wont come on stream for many years.  The 5 year supply however is framed as a flow, and it is the flow of brownfield sites which matter.

There are a few hypothetical changes a government of whatever colour could make.

1) It could be made compulsory rather than optional – little difference few if any authorities have gone ‘greenfield first’ if there are available and viable brownfield alternatives.

2) It could be made to apply at S78 appeals, so if the 5 year supply gap could be closed by alternative viable and available greenfield sites you would go to those sites first.  But this really should already apply as sites dont need to have consent to be part of the five year supply, they simply have to be suitable, viable and available within 5 years.

3) Have a real push on making brownfield sites viable and available through state action.  The only real option which would maintain flow of housing sites.

So beware those that cry brownfield first when they really mean abandoning or weakening policy on 5 years supply.

One thing that has been apparent in the public debate is that the stock of brownfield sites is not as great as often porpoised and often in the wrong places. perhaps the CPRE now regrets its ‘waste of space’ campaign having only identified 105 sites.  They would have been much better hiring someone to do spectral analysis of satellite images cross refereneced to business rates records to identify abandoned sites and buildings.

4 thoughts on “Is a revived ‘Brownfield First’ Policy Practical or Possible

  1. There are some areas where the natural constaints of landform (steep valleys, wooded areas, flooding etc) have resulted in brownfield land being re-developed historically for many years. Now those ares are having virtually nothing in the way of new development. Even the windfall sites have dried up. However I understood that there was some case law which identified that sites needed to have PP before they could be included in the 5 year supply?

  2. There is in fact plenty currently stopping local authorities having a local brownfield first policy. The result is that, as our report Community Control or Countryside Chaos found, only 27% of local authorities have chosen to set a local brownfield target, with one case the local authority having a target of building only 12% of new homes on brownfield land.

    Our waste of space campaign aims to raise awareness of the potential for disused and abandoned sites to be developed to meet some of the current housing demand and raise the profile of the brownfield first agenda with the general public. We are therefore only asking people to identify buildings or spaces that look as though they are being wasted, rather than asking for details of planning permissions etc.

    We have had over 150 nominations so far for our waste of space map and the comments we have received indicate that there is a frustration among local communities where they can see the potential of the brownfield sites near them whilst developments are being considered in the green belt.

    Obviously not all the sites that have been identified may be suitable for development, but we feel that the campaign is being successful in raising the profile of brownfield sites with people who may not have considered the issue.

    Rhiannon Ormerod
    Digital Communications Manager, CPRE

    • Where exactly do you think local councillors prefer releasing Green Belt land or even Greenfield land in preference to using Brownfield sites?
      Thanks to the generally perceived view amongst their voters that there is plenty of Brownfield land, Councillors are delaying work on identifying sites in order to ensure that they don’t do anything controversial that could end up with them loosing their seats. We even see plenty of exmaples of Councillors ditching the responsibility of making these decisions by refusing and passing the decision to Inspectors.
      Why can’t you explain to people that it’s time to move on – we’ve made the best of most of the brownfield land – certainly there are some difficult pockets left, but let’s get some housing sites moving and stop the price bubble from happening again.

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