Two new industry reports have revealed that Brownfield registers are failing to meet their potential, identifying that national and local government could do much more to secure suitable land and simplify the registers.
The separate reports, commissioned independently by Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and development Think Tank, The Gracechurch Group, both concluded that government targets will not be met, according to current Brownfield register figures.
In April 2017, ex-Housing Minister Gavin Barwell, announced that Brownfield Registers must be kept by all English local authorities, facilitating the development of derelict and unused land for new housing.
The legislation required that all local authorities be responsible for producing and maintaining a list of suitable land in their area. The Brownfield registers were piloted in 2016 by 73 local authorities.
It was believed that the registers would encourage new developments, increase the demand of land available and ultimately speed up the delivery of new homes.
However, the first study, commissioned by CPRE and carried out by consultancy firm HTA Design LLP, entitled Unlocking Potential: Best Practice for Brownfield Land Registers, identified that local authorities are failing to consider small plots for the purposes of development.
After analysing 43 newly updated Brownfield Registers, HTA found that less than 4% of the land listed would be suitable for up to ten new homes.
The study claims that councils “routinely disregard” small brownfield sites, despite the fact that such plots tend to have existing infrastructure in place, making housing development must more straight forward.
Local authorities claimed that such sites were overlooked due to a “lack of resources”. This indicates the degree to which the planning system is struggling to cope with demand, prioritising larger sites in order to meet targets.
In the 2017 Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that government will soon expect 20% of new homes to be built on small sites. The CPRE therefore suggests that government needs to provide better guidance to identify suitable smaller plots, if its aim is to be met.
Every local planning authority is expected to publish their first Brownfield register on 31 December 2017, but the CPRE h as suggested that government carry out a review prior to this date.
The CPRE’s planning campaigner, Rebecca Pullinger, commented: “Up and down the country, tens of thousands of small brownfield sites are not included in brownfield land registers and their housing development potential missed.
“The current system of collecting this data must be improved if we are to unlock the potential of brownfield, and stop developers finding an excuse to build on greenfield areas.”
The Gracechurch Group’s report, Brownfield: The housing crisis solved? compared the housing need figure calculated by Government, with the amount of land listed on 67 pilot Brownfield registers.
The group, made up of planning consultancy Dominic Lawson Bespoke Planning and developers Crocus Valley and Bonnar Allan, found that if all of the potential homes listed on these 67 registers were built within the next five years, the numbers would fall well short of government targets.
Of the analysed pilot schemes, only two regions had sufficient brownfield capacity to accommodate their five-year housing requirements.
The report initially showed that using the government’s proposed method for calculating housing need, the 67 councils with pilot registers would require 278,640 dwellings over the next five years. The Brownfield register figures promisingly showed that these areas could support 305,231 dwellings.
“On the face of it, Brownfield can be used to build all the homes needed over the next five years in the pilot areas,” the report says.
However, it goes on to explain that Brownfield land cannot be used to build all the required new homes, and gives three reasons why.
Firstly, it suggests, because the listed land is unevenly distributed across the country, mainly in areas where the housing need is low.
It goes on to explain that in order for land to be added to a register, it must be deliverable within 15 years, as opposed to the five-year window in which a site must be developed upon, in order to demonstrate that it can aid the council with its land supply needs.
The Gracechurch Group suggests that this 15-year timeline is “an impediment to their utility”.
The report indicated that certain Brownfield land, which requires remediation and public funding, could still be added to the registers, since a lot is likely to change in 15 years.
The group also stated that many of the listed Brownfield sites will not be built on “even if they are theoretically capable of adding to the housing stock”, and have planning consent in place, since, it says, that the “dropout rate” between planning permission approval and homes being built, is around a third.
These findings were provided by a senior official from the Department for Communities and Local Government, in evidence given to a select committee.
This abandonment rate applies to all planning permissions and not just those on Brownfield register, suggesting that the drop-out rate could be even higher for Brownfield land, due to the financial and administrative difficulties with making such sites development-ready.
The report concluded that with the above attrition rate, the number of homes that could be built on Brownfield land, within the pilot council areas, drops to 203,487, some 75,153 below government calculations.
Neil Lawson-May of The Gracechurch Group, commented: “Brownfield land can make a significant impact on the housing crisis, but it cannot solve it.”
Words: Jen Grimble
Brownfield land has the potential to make a significant impact on the housing crisis, but currently, the registers are falling short of what we’d expect them to deliver.
Brownfield registers should be an important sources of small sites, ripe for custom build development. Yet the specified Brownfield land is not always suitable, or desirable to consumers, but could be a real start in filling the hole in the housing gap.
These reports indicate that Government needs to rethink its legislation surround the register, and do more to facilitate authorities in recognising adequate land for housing.