Call for more to be done to use derelict land for new home building in England

One million new homes on derelict land across 18,000 sites could transform towns and cities in England and provide much needed new homes, according to a new analysis.

The report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) into the potential of brownfield land for housing calls for a stop to the unnecessary loss of countryside and green spaces.

It wants to see the introduction of a genuine brownfield first policy to help prioritise brownfield over greenfield, as well as supporting local authorities to establish a more rigorous list of opportunities.

It also encourages local government to do a much better job identifying and promoting brownfield sites and it is supported by the National Federation of Builders (NFB) in terms of the potential that building on derelict and vacant land has for the regeneration of towns and cities, as well as the provision of new homes.

The analysis highlights that there is space on suitable land that has previously been built on, and now sits derelict or vacant to build more than one million new homes, two thirds of which are ‘shovel ready’ and could make an immediate contribution to meeting housing need, as they have been confirmed as being deliverable within five years.

Prioritising 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, the report points out.

More than 120,000 of the potential new homes have been added to council brownfield land registers in the past year alone but the 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.

‘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,’ said Rebecca Pullinger, CPRE planning campaigner.

‘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.

The CPRE adds that 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.

As advocates of small sites registers, better industry collaboration with local developers and land owners, and long term planning of strategic large sites, the NFB said that it understands the value of exhausting brownfield and smaller sites.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, believes that the CPRE is right to use the word ‘unnecessary’ when referring to the loss of green spaces. In some regions, especially since the Government changed the definition of brownfield to exclude gardens, no brownfield land is available. Therefore, it will be necessary to use some greenspaces to meet housing need and keep villages and towns thriving.

‘This is not simply about cleaning up and using previously developed land. Brownfield sites are typically uncontroversial, built more quickly and delivered by locally employing and investing SMEs. They hold a lot of community value,’ he explained.

According to Rico Wojtulewicz, head of housing and planning policy at the House Builders Association, the report is another example of local government failing to allocate the right homes in the right places and relying too heavily on large sites.

‘Local authorities must do a better job allocating sites for housing, but the Government needs to now recognise why the industry is calling for planning reform. It’s just not fit for purpose,’ he added.