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Halfway there on Brownfield Land Registers

Aside from renaming the Department for Communities and Local Government to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the latest government push to deliver housing is the need for councils to publish a brownfield register, writes Dominick Veasey.

In naming a new ‘Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’ during the latest cabinet reshuffle, the government has once again put housing at the front and centre of its policy agenda. In more concrete terms however, the latest government push to get the UK building more new homes came on 31 December 2017, with the requirement for local councils to publish their Brownfield Land Registers.

The New Year deadline marked two and a half years since the government published its Fixing the Foundations productivity plan, which further championed building homes on brownfield sites. The plan recommended “legislating to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites… subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details”. The theory was that measures such as brownfield registers and permission in principle would drive housing delivery by eliminating uncertainty and delay. Coincidentally, the plan was put forward and co-signed by the former Secretary of State for the Department for Business and Innovation, who is now the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government – Sajid Javid.

Brownfield registers are supposed to ensure that nine out of 10 suitable brownfield sites across England have planning permission for housing by 2020. This, in turn, is supposed to help deliver on the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto pledge to build one million new homes by 2020 and another half a million by 2022. With two years to go until 2020 however, Mr Javid will have a lot of work on his plate if he wants to meet these targets – both in terms of planning permission for brownfield sites as well as housing delivery.

"If the current situation continues, the results generated from the Brownfield Land Registers might prove somewhat underwhelming"

While the large majority of local councils across England did publish their brownfield registers, the government must be dissatisfied by the lack of part 2 of the registers. The part 2 registers specify which brownfield sites have been given the vital permission in principle planning status. It is exactly this status which is so important in reducing uncertainty and delay, thereby helping to deliver new homes on brownfield land.

The preparing of a part 2 register is not compulsory and by consequence most local authorities have not completed this section of the registers. If the current situation continues, the results generated from the Brownfield Land Registers might prove somewhat underwhelming given how the first part of the registers simply list brownfield sites having already obtained planning permission and brownfield sites that are potentially suitable for housing but are subject to obtaining planning permission.

In short, the brownfield registers in their present state are unlikely to bolster housing delivery on the scale the government would have hoped. The real potential of brownfield registers derives from part 2 of the registers. The hope is that councils will find the time to assess brownfield sites and complete part 2 of the registers, but given their lack of resources, this might be overly optimistic. To keep up the drive for new homes, the government should incentivise the completion of part 2 of the registers and support local authorities with this task.

Dominick Veasey is a associate director at planning consultancy Nexus Planning.

Image credit | Shutterstock


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