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Should We Be Building New Homes on Greenfield?

Posted by: Christopher Ruddick

Should We Be Building New Homes on Greenfield?

The recent BBC series, The New Builds are Coming: Battle in the Countryside highlighted a fairly well-balanced series of views from both sides including residents and the industry across both episodes. Not had time to watch it? Sit down for a few hours with a brew and then read our blog – Link

Here at TDM we have referred, in a number of blogs, to the Government’s requirement to build 300,000 homes per year to meet the challenges of the ongoing housing crisis. Obviously in recent times this has been made slightly more precise by Homes England to be “an average of 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020’s”.

In a number of cases we have gone on to highlight how simply achieving that aim is going to be difficult, if not impossible. Recent periods have shown an increase, but not to the degree required to meet these targets.

One area we have never really touched on in our blogs though is where these new homes are going to be built. Or rather more precisely, we have never considered what type of land these developers are going to be using to fulfil these developments (and if possible the Government’s targets).

The BBC documentary focused on the fact that these new homes were being built not on brownfield, but greenfield, as well as the reasons that was going to be possible.

All this talk of greenfield sites got us here at TDM thinking how much less “contentious” brownfield land is available, more so because local authorities now keep records of all suitable brownfield sites and planning in principle on such sites.

Rather conveniently, the source of such an answer is unusual, but the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has analysed the local authority brownfield registers. The answers are that the register currently holds sites that could build around 1.1 million homes, deliverable within 5 years.

The main high-pressure areas of the South East and London would be able to build approx. 132,263 and 267,859 homes of that total.

1.1 million homes is a significant figure. However, if we then go back to the Government targets and make a number of presumptions:

  • That no further brownfield sites are added to the register
  • We can actually build 300,000 homes per year now
  • All sites are suitable and do not have “other” issues preventing development

Then the simple answer is that the current list of brownfield sites would only last a little over 3.5 years. Obviously, these presumptions are rather large and clearly for the numerous reasons we have previously highlighted reaching 300,000 homes per year is not really going to be achievable immediately.

But, the final presumption does highlight an interesting question; are all sites suitable for development?

By that we mean are there no issues surrounding access?

Are there problems with contamination or other dangerous issues that could prevent or slow progress of a development on that site?

Chances are that a proportion of these sites simply will not meet all these requirements to ease development.

Furthermore, even if a developer went ahead with a development on one of these sites, would they be able to make any form of profit from developing the site?

It therefore seems that only a small proportion of the overall available brownfield sites are actually “easy” to develop and use for new homes development. That is before we take account for profit that a developer will seeking to make from such a development.

Finally, one other element is of course the distribution and the rate at which different regions can build these new homes on these brownfield sites.

In conclusion, whilst I personally can see and respect the reasons, feelings, views and emotions of many campaigners against building on greenfield. The simple reality of the situation is that there is a need to utilise some of these potential sites for development to keep pace with the level of new homes required.