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 land.it 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.