Prioritizing brownfields could alleviate UK housing crisis with one million new homes

A new analysis of local councils’ Brownfield Land Registers in England was published on March 25, 2019 by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). It confirms the huge potential that building on derelict and vacant land has for regenerating towns and cities, not to mention easing the national housing crisis.

The analysis highlights that there is space on suitable brownfield land—land that has previously been built on, and now sits derelict or vacant due to real or perceived contamination—to accommodate more than one million new homes. Two-thirds of these opportunities need no additional remediation, and are thus “shovel ready.” This means that they could make an immediate contribution to meeting housing needs, as they have been confirmed as being deliverable within five years.

Prioritizing this land, which councils have shown is ready and waiting to be redeveloped, would not only help to transform run-down areas, and provide more homes, but also prevent the unnecessary loss of precious countryside and green spaces for housing.

As well as providing an opportunity to deliver the homes we need now, the countryside charity highlights the potential for brownfield land to continue providing a steady pipeline of housing, as more than 120,000 of the potential new homes have been added to the registers in the past year alone.

Despite this demonstrable success of Brownfield Land Registers, CPRE fears that the definition of “previously developed land” given in the registers’ regulations means that a large number of sites are currently being missed, and the full potential of the registers to bring forward as much suitable brownfield land for housing as possible is not being met.

It also highlights that housing density assumptions for the land identified is low. By increasing the density of housing built on brownfield land, councils will be able to make best use of the space available and deliver more homes.

Recent research by CPRE London in the Borough of Enfield found space for at least 37,000 homes on a wide range of types of brownfield land. This is compared to just 2,170 homes identified on Enfield’s most recently published register in December 2017.

Rebecca Pullinger, planning campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England says, “Building on brownfield land presents a fantastic opportunity to simultaneously remove local eyesores and breathe new life into areas crying out for regeneration. It will help to limit the amount of countryside lost to development, and build more homes in areas where people want to live, with infrastructure, amenities and services already in place.”

Councils have worked hard to identify space suitable for more than one million new homes. But until we have a brownfield first approach to development, and all types of previously developed land are considered, a large number of sites that could be transformed into desperately needed new homes will continue to be overlooked. The government, local councils and house builders must work hard to bring these sites forward for development and get building,” she added.

Many areas across England with high housing need also have a large amount of brownfield land ready for redevelopment. London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield have identified land available for regeneration that would provide almost half a million homes.

In order to make best use of suitable brownfield land, CPRE is urging the government to introduce a genuine “brownfield first” policy, which ensures that suitable previously developed or under-used land is prioritized for redevelopment over green spaces and countryside.

Clearer definitions and guidelines must be given so that the registers act as a true pipeline, identifying all possible brownfield sites and recording their suitability for uses other than housing, including uses that protect the biodiversity or heritage value of sites where applicable.

Image courtesy of CPRE.

See full State of Brownfield 2019 report.

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