Brownfield Land Supply: What’s the real story?

On 28 October the government released new statistics about brownfield sites and their potential for development. This blog looks at what these statistics really mean and how this compares to what other organisations are saying about brownfield land.

What’s our view?

The National Trust recognises that more houses do need to be built and that this development should be on brownfield sites where possible. If other sites need to be built on, these should be release in a controlled way through a plan-led system. As a result, we’ve been looking at the growing

Our Director General Helen Ghosh appeared at a select committee reviewing the NPPF (read our blogs on the NPPF here and here)   in the summer. She spoke about the National Trust’s view of brownfield sites and suggested what action the government should take on them. She expressed concern that the NPPF is still not making sure housing is being built in the most suitable locations and suggested that the government should provide more funding to help get brownfield sites ready for development.

What does the Government say?

The latest full set of government data (from 2010) says there is currently room for 1.4million homes to be built on brownfield sites of which 800,000 are already in the planning system. Unfortunately we only have raw data for 2011 and 2012, after the Government ended the expectation that local councils send them information

However, in other recent statements, the Government have said they estimate there is enough brownfield land available for just 200,000 new homes. Their stated aim is to have 90% of brownfield sites built on by 2020. However we know that our current stock of brownfield land is not a finite resource. Every time existing development – from homes to factories and everything in between – fall out of use new sites are created. Therefore, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that 90% of today’s brownfield sites will be built on by 2020. The assumption that there is a set bank of brownfield land also seems to be a real weakness of NLP’s report into Brownfield land released in May this year.

CPRE’s new work

Most recently, the Campaign to protect Rural England (CPRE) have released a comprehensive new report: From wasted space to living spaces. In it they explain that local authorities have identified the capacity for at least 1 million new homes on suitable brownfield land in England. It also includes recommendations for how to make brownfield land more attractive to developers and to encourage local authorities to do more to identify sites suitable for development. CPRE say this may be an underestimate as it only identifies land which is already derelict or that already has planning permission on it. It does not include under-used land such as car parks or new brownfields that may become available, all of which could potentially be used for housing.

The CPRE report is developed from three strands of research:

  • A survey of all local planning authorities in England requesting their NLUD data for 2011,2012 and 2013
  • A critical review of policies and other mechanism encouraging brownfield development
  • Case studies of seven local planning authorities

 Because the Government has ceased gathering data in this area, CPRE’s work relied on the co-operation of other agencies which they did not fully receive – 34% of local planning authorities were not able to provide new data to the organisation in a suitable format, and so the research uses the latest available Government figures from 2010 to fill in the gaps.

Where is brownfield land?We also need to think about where the sites are – are they in places where people want to live and will have access to jobs? Stirling Ackroyd have done research identifying sites in London for half a million houses in the London area alone without affecting the Green Belt. The CPRE report also says that 44% of housing capacity on brownfield land is in London, the South East and East of England – the three areas where housing demand is the highest.

It is clear, however, that not all areas of the country will have enough brownfield land to provide all of the new homes we need. What is critical is that, where we need to release other land for development, this happens in a controlled way, in line with a Local Plan drawn up by the community.

What next?

This brief look at recent research shows that there still remain some questions about exactly how much brownfield land is available, how much of it has yet to be brought into the planning system and how much of it is really suitable for development. These all need to be considered when thinking about how useful any of this research into available land will be to helping ease the current housing crisis. One clear solution is for the Government to gather comprehensive data in this area once again.

What we can say is that the Government’s own figures, and CPRE’s recent report show us there is a lot of potential to build the new houses we need on brownfield sites. It also confirms that as these sites are developed, more become available when industry and businesses move to different locations. Where there is brownfield capacity, the Government should capitalise on its potential – and avoid the unnecessary loss of countryside. In areas where derelict sites are not sufficient to meet housing need, local plans should decide what other land is released for development.



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