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Report: Brownfield sites alone cannot solve housing crisis

Words: Laura Edgar
Brownfield land / Roger Smith

Greenfield sites will be necessary if enough homes are to be delivered to meet demand, the authors of a new study have said.

Brownfield: The Housing Crisis Solved? considers the areas with pilot brownfield registers, comparing them with their five-year housing demand.

The pilot areas have the potential for 200,000 homes, net of normal planning attrition. But the five-year demand for housing in these areas is 275,000 homes, while 550,000 are needed over 10 years.

“The housing shortfall from brownfield is even greater than these numbers suggest,” said Neil Lawson-May of The Gracechurch Group, which sponsored the study.

According to the report, most brownfield land is not in areas of high housing need, therefore, the headline numbers present “a less accurate picture that the regional analysis”.

Lawson-May said just two regions taking part in the pilot have sufficient capacity to accommodate their five-year housing requirement once planning attrition has been factored in.

“Brownfield land can make a significant impact on the housing crisis, but it cannot solve it.”

He added that “hard evidence about brownfield site availability through the registers can help politicians and planning authorities explain to communities more effectively why greenfield development is necessary”.

The report looked at the sites identified on the brownfield registers created by local planning authorities.

The government’s new formula for assessing housing need was laid over this to see how far brownfield and can go towards meeting housing needs.

Of the 73 pilot local authorities, 67 have published their registers; the deadline for local authorities is 31 December 2017. In total, the registers identify 4,894 brownfield sites, covering 12,960 hectares, which could provide around 300,000 new homes – but this falls to 200,000 once the normal one-third attrition rate for the planning process is accounted for.

Lawson-May noted that most brownfield sites can accommodate 15 homes or fewer. “The collapse of many small housebuilders during the credit crunch is a problem for developing small brownfield sites," continued Lawson-May. "The government should consider expanding its successful Home Building Fund.”

Just 25 sites on the registers could provide 22 per cent of all brownfield homes, notes the report. Such sites should be “targeted urgently and centrally” to determine if they are sustainable. If not, “it would be better to return them to nature and build on greenfield than spend many years debating their future,” said Lawson May.

Recommendations in Brownfield: The Housing Crisis Solved? include:

  • Local people and interest groups should be encouraged to put forward sites for inclusion on brownfield registers and if sites are not to be included on those registers then an explanation should be given.
  • The registers take no account of the attrition rate between grant of planning permission and the start of development which, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government, is about one-third. The report suggests that local planning authorities publish total brownfield housing numbers from the register alongside total expected (i.e. after normal attrition) numbers.
  • The small size of most brownfield sites limits the density at which they can be built if the existing streetscape and neighbourliness are to be preserved. Where greater density is possible this is best left as a matter for local communities through the local planning authority.

* The Gracechurch Group includes Palatium Investment Management, Dominic Lawson Bespoke Planning, Crocus Valley and Bonnar Allan.

Read more:

RTPI: Greenfield and green belts can help provide homes

Image credit | Roger Smith