Brown New Green

Our experts debate whether brownfield development is the best way to help alleviate the housing shortage, and what this means for the future of greenbelt sites.

Councils are being told that they must protect greenbelt land, and the government has issued new planning guidance to assist them in doing so. The guidance urges councils to prioritise the thousands of brownfield sites that are available for development.

So, what does this mean for the building industry?

London Safety Clean’s operations director is Jeff Nelson.

“When it comes to brownfield development, we’re being misled at best, and swindled at worst.” If we are to truly address the nation’s housing shortage, we will need both brownfield and greenfield sites.

“Lowering regulations will only result in half-hearted investment by developers and a limited increase in job opportunities in the industry.” However, because of the prohibitive costs associated with brownfield development, the barriers to entry will remain far too high for all but the wealthiest private developers. More jobs will be created in the industry, but not on the scale or speed that we require.

“We should also be cautious about completely removing local councils’ regulatory powers.” Unchecked developers could leave us with low-quality housing, which is especially concerning given that many brownfield sites are contaminated with hazardous materials. Cutting corners by developers is bad for the construction industry, bad for homeowners, and bad for the economy.

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“A better solution would be to levy business rates on owners of vacant brownfield sites.” Owners would then be forced to make an immediate decision: build on the site or sell to someone who will. Construction and site clearance jobs would increase, as would building and housing supply. When combined with the reclassification of some greenfield sites, we would have the ambitious solution to our country’s housing crisis that we require.”

Kristian Niemietz is an Institute of Economic Affairs senior research fellow.

“Nick Boles was the Gorbachev of the UK’s land use planning system, and the National Planning Policy Framework was the housing sector’s Glasnost and Perestroika.” But it’s as if Leonid Brezhnev had risen from the dead in the late 1980s to depose Gorbachev and turn back the clock.

“The new planning guidance to strengthen greenbelt protection will give the Nimbys power back.” Mole Valley District Council in Surrey has already revoked a plan that would have allowed for much-needed greenbelt development. Expect more of the same.

“Make no mistake: This isn’t about shifting development from greenfield to brownfield sites. It is about completely halting development. ‘Brownfield’ has become the Nimby lobby’s rallying cry, their go-to excuse.

“However, before encouraging brownfield redevelopment became an official policy goal, housebuilding was already heavily skewed toward brownfield sites.” However, there simply isn’t enough of it in the right places. The majority of the brownfield land that the Nimby lobby keeps referring to exists only in their imagination, and the problem with imaginary brownfield sites is that they can only be used to build imaginary houses on.”

Seddon Homes Limited’s managing director is Michael Jefferson.

“All political parties appear to support the need for the construction of 200k+ new homes per year, but in order to do so, we must ensure that enough land is made available in locations where people want to live and work, whether in the green belt or on brownfield sites, depending on demand and land availability.”

“In 2014, roughly 80% of the new homes Seddon built for sale were built on brownfield land.” These sites, on the other hand, are frequently inherently complex, with issues relating to viability and planning. As a result of the Government’s revitalised approach, we hope to be able to work more closely with landowners, local governments, and the HCA as we continue to develop quality new build homes on brownfield sites. However, with many sites still unviable due to remediation costs, we would like to see more funding made available to bring them forward.

“No one is proposing that we raid the countryside in order to build new homes. The rate of development of green belt land is at its lowest since records began in the late 1980s. Green belt policy, which dates back to the 1940s, protects over a third of England from development. Many of these green spaces are properly protected, but in some areas, the need to build is critical to ensuring the long-term viability of communities, and green belt boundaries may need to be reconsidered.

“We must ensure that poor-quality green belt areas are not protected at the expense of high-quality amenity space.” As a country, we need to revisit the green belt boundaries and consider different types of green belt. We could rank sites from super green belt to poor green belt, because many areas aren’t the picture of green rolling countryside that many people believe the policy is meant to protect.

“Ultimately, each community must ensure that sufficient viable and deliverable sites are made available to ensure that the nation’s housing needs are met.”

Watson Burton LLP’s David Pridmore is a partner.

“In today’s housing market, it’s difficult to argue against the principle of building on brownfield land because it offers a more sustainable alternative.” Nonetheless, the political agenda has a long way to go when it comes to addressing the associated commercial issues, with many brownfield sites located in areas with low end sales values. When this is combined with the high costs of clean-up, the development viability for many home builders simply does not add up.

“With this in mind, it is critical that building professionals collaborate to develop more innovative solutions to reduce clean-up costs.” This could be accomplished through increased funding from the Homes and Communities Agency, or by reducing the amount of red tape associated with planning rules on regeneration sites, for example. We also need to do more to educate the public and prospective homeowners about the perception that leafy suburban sites are desirable.

“The potential benefits of closing the viability gap are enormous.” Combating some of these issues allows us to clean up more brownfield land, which helps to alleviate the current housing shortage and kickstart regeneration.

“In my opinion, brownfield sites alone cannot meet all of the housing needs.” Rather, a more holistic perspective is required, though whether we will ever achieve this with a political system so focused on the short term is debatable. However, recent comments from Sir David Higgins and the Government acknowledging that new transportation links across the country could be critical to resolving some viability issues are very encouraging. Hopefully, this marks the start of a larger conversation that highlights some of the issues with redeveloping many brownfield sites while also offering some solutions.”

Andrew Stoddart is a real estate investor and the CEO of VIDA Architecture.

“Redevelopment of brownfield land to meet rising housing demand is a good approach, but it does not go far enough and is impossible to implement in isolation if government targets of providing 4.4 million new homes by 2016 are to be met.”

“While the government’s plans are welcome, they fail to recognise that developers may incur costs when preparing brownfield sites for development.” To ensure the site’s commerciality and viability, such expenditure must be reflected in the land value, with the cost ultimately passed on to the homebuyer.

“The realistic threat of interest rates rising within the next year, combined with average wages remaining unchanged since the recession, emphasises the importance of new developments being affordable for developers and purchasers.”

“These plans do not address the main barrier that developers face: the planning process and how councils block developments rather than grant them.” I’m hoping that the new government financial incentives will encourage councils to be more efficient and grant developments, whether on brownfield or greenbelt land, if appropriate.

“While new guidance has been issued to councils to protect their respective greenbelt sites, there must be a process in place to allow them to redevelop suitable greenbelt land, such as old hospitals or research centres.”

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Last Updated on December 29, 2021

Indra-Gupta

Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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