Monday, 24 November 2014

As sure as night follows day, brownfield promotion follows Green Belt protection

Morecambe and Wise. Shearer and Sheringham. Green Belt and Brownfield. Partnerships that are famous because you cannot think of one without thinking of the other.



Having reinforced the Government's commitment to the Green Belt last month, it was perhaps inevitable that this month would see a similar commitment from Housing & Planning Minister Brandon Lewis to brownfield sites, the supply of which, as I heard recently, becomes more elastic the closer time gets to a general election. Sure enough, Mr Lewis lent his name to a CPRE press release about it's 'Wasted Space' campaign.

Labour too is keen to emphasise it's pre-election brownfield credentials, and I recently heard Shadow Minister Roberta Blackman-Woods reinforce a 'brownfield first' message that was first aired by Hilary Benn some time ago. 

Nobody would disagree that brownfield sites should be developed before greenfield ones, but this, unfortunately, is where the public pronouncements of our politicians stop because neither Mr Lewis or Dr Blackman-Woods will go on to highlight the simple fact that brownfield sites simply cannot deliver anything like the number of homes required to meet the national shortfall.



Tellingly, Michael Lyons, the man commissioned by the Labour Party to provide an independent review of housing policy, is not a big fan. His report states...

"...land being available for development does not necessarily mean that it can be built on or that it is in the right place to meet housing need. If the costs involved in purchasing the land, remediation and preparation, the costs of infrastructure and the construction of the homes outweigh the receipts from selling them, brownfield land will not be economically viable. Therefore undue emphasis on what can be achieved with brownfield alone is always likely to be an over simplistic response to the land supply question."

He goes on...

"The review is clear that the principle of brownfield first is right and should continue with a sequential test that ensures that such sites are considered first for new development, but the experiences of unintended consequences of national brownfield policies illustrate the importance of a more tailored approach which can respond to local circumstances and address the particular barriers to unlock development on stalled brownfield sites."



Mr Lyons states that tackling the housing crisis will require strong leadership. That means that Mr Lewis and Dr Blackman-Woods need to tell the public what  they need to know (and what I heard Mr Lyons tell Paul Miner of the CPRE at this year's TCPA conference), which is that brownfield sites are not enough and that greenfield sites (and in some areas Green Belt sites) will need to be developed. Getting local plans adopted and planning permissions approved will remain that bit more difficult than it needs to be until they do.

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