Building homes on brownfield land to be strengthened

Building homes on brownfield land to be strengthened

Big city councils must prioritise brownfield development over Green Belt, says government as it announces a major shake-up to planning rules to boost the construction of new homes in the right places.

As part of its long-term plan for housing, the Government has announced that every council in England will be told that they will need to prioritise brownfield developments and instructed to be less bureaucratic and more flexible in applying policies that halt housebuilding on brownfield land.

The Government has said the bar for refusing brownfield plans will also be made much higher for those big city councils who are failing to hit their locally agreed housebuilding targets. Planning authorities in England’s 20 largest cities and towns will be made to follow a ‘brownfield presumption’, if housebuilding drops below expected levels. Government believes this will make it easier to get permission to build on previously developed brownfield sites, helping more young families to find a home.

The raft of policy measures announced are part of government’s long-term plan for housing, the aim of which is to deliver homes in the areas that need and want them the most — such as in big cities, where there is the highest demand and existing infrastructure to support new development. The Government believes these reforms will further support developers aiming to undertake major regeneration on brownfield sites, giving them more certainty by ensuring their plans are not unnecessarily blocked or held up by red tape.

A consultation on the Government’s proposals launched today (13th February) and will run until Tuesday 26th March, and the Government will look to implement these changes to national planning policy as soon as possible.

Legislation laid in Parliament today will extend current permitted development rights, so that commercial buildings of any size will have the freedom to be converted into new homes – this means shops, offices, and other buildings all quickly repurposed, resulting in thousands of quality new homes by 2030.

Before Christmas, Secretary of State Michael Gove asked Christopher Katkowski KC to lead a review of the London Plan and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has now published Katkowski’s review, which recommends a presumption in favour of brownfield development. The analysis published as part of the London Plan Review shows that new brownfield presumption in the capital could potentially result in up to 11,500 additional homes per year. And by extending the reforms across the country, more homes will be unlocked than if action had been taken in London alone.

Christopher Katkowski KC, Lead Reviewer of the London Plan said: “I am delighted to see the idea which I together with my colleagues on the London Plan Review came up with of a planning policy presumption in favour of delivering new homes on brownfield sites being taken forward on a wider scale as part of a suggested change to the NPPF. The inspiration for the brownfield presumption came from the NPPF in the first place and so it is good to see the idea being brought back to its roots as an additional lever to encourage the delivery of new homes. I see this as a worthwhile and welcome change.”

Housing Secretary Michael Gove said: “Today marks another important step forward in our Long-Term Plan for Housing, taking a brownfield first approach to deliver thousands of new homes where people want to live and work, without concreting over the countryside. Our new brownfield presumption will tackle under delivery in our key towns and cities — where new homes are most needed to support jobs and drive growth.”

Number of new homes is important but is their quality and safety
Gavin Smart, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) commented: “We agree urgent action is needed to tackle the housing crisis and boost supply.

“Brownfield regeneration and bringing existing buildings back into use has the potential to play an important role in meeting our national housing need. But while the number of new homes is important so is their quality and safety. The permitted development regime bypasses usual planning processes and in recent years has led to some incredibly poor-quality homes which should not have been built. Government promises that there will be protections to prevent this are encouraging, but the detail here will be very important if we are not repeat these mistakes.”

Content of consultation doesn’t quite match the rhetoric
Paul Wakefield, Planning Partner at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, said: “Interestingly, in the announcement, the Government once again seeks to draw a distinction between brownfield and greenbelt, suggesting that the one be prioritised in favour of the other. This is a false equivalence, as the numerous brownfield sites within the greenbelt testify.

“However, the content of the consultation doesn’t quite match the rhetoric, and instead simply focuses on delivering increased density on brownfield sites, and euphemistically invites local planning authorities to ‘take a flexible approach to applying planning policies or guidance relating to daylight and sunlight and internal layouts of development’, whilst also proposing a presumption in favour of brownfield sites in major towns and cities.

“There are two aspects to this: the first is that there are relatively few greenfield sites in the major towns and cities already, and as such the majority of development there is already focussed on brownfield sites. With this in mind, it’s not clear how much these proposals will change things, although further incentivising such development will likely be welcomed by developers.

“Secondly, brownfield redevelopment is more expensive, which means that there are inevitably viability challenges which come from developing brownfield sites, and this often has a consequence for local authorities who have to make concessions on matters such as affordable housing provision, or other infrastructure impacts. Given the troubled finances in many local authorities, this may actually place an increased burden on councils whose finances are already stretched to breaking point, and which may mean that we see the development of accommodation which just meets the minimum acceptable living standards, with density seemingly the principal driver, at the expense of place making.

“Density done well, in the right location, can be a huge positive. However, done poorly it can create significant social problems. As such, the need for good planning remains paramount.”

Not a one size fits all approach
Craig Pettit, Planning Director at Marrons, said: “These proposals are also born from the recent London Plan Review, where there are specific issues and challenges, which the Government is now seeking to apply to other major towns and cities. The types of homes considered acceptable in London may not be elsewhere, moreover, there are towns and cities across the country that benefit from greenfield and Green Belt development to assist in the growth of local infrastructure the local economy.

“The Government needs to recognise that it’s not a one size fits all approach and a balanced approach to economic and housing growth must be advocated.  Green Belt development has the ability in many locations, where done sustainably, to introduce far more benefits than brownfield development.”

Header image: ©Philip J Openshaw/AdobeStock

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