Friday, 7 October 2011
If one ignores all the hot air and pointless posturing in the National Trust’s recent 10 ‘asks’ to the government, the one point with any real substance is the request that the government should restore the preference for developing brown land (or “brownfield sites” as they are usually called nowadays) before greenfield sites are developed.
The form in which this policy was applied by the last government had a disastrous effect on housebuilding. The requirement that 70% of housing development should be on brownfield sites seriously reduced the overall level of house building and contributed to the ever-growing housing shortage.
I have expressed the hope in previous posts that the government will resist this particular demand on the part of the NT and others, but if they are minded to make some concession in that direction, as indications suggest they might, it should certainly not include any percentage target. To do so would be wholly unrealistic, and would simply prolong the current housing shortage.
The plain fact is that in order to build the sort of family homes that are needed, with generous gardens in which children can play safely, a lower density of development is required. The previous government’s policy led to too many little boxes being built on cramped sites, which were totally unsuitable for families. We do not need yet more one-bed and two-bed flats; we need decent family homes.
If ministers are persuaded that there does need to be some reference in the NPPF to the desirability of developing brownfield sites in preference to greenfield, any such statement should be qualified by the proviso that this would apply only where it can be demonstrated by the LPA that there are brownfield sites in the same district which are currently available and are physically capable of being developed with the same number and type of homes that are proposed by the developer, and that it would be commercially viable to do so taking account of the location of the alternative site or sites, the physical state of the land and any contamination and other problems requiring remediation.
In practice, it is likely that a substantial number of brownfield sites will prove on investigation not to be currently available or to be incapable of commercially viable development. It is undesirable and would be damaging to the government’s wider objectives to place too high a hurdle in the way of the development of greenfield sites. The development of such sites is essential and unavoidable if housing need is to be met. Only where a currently available brownfield site is a realistically viable alternative should the development of a greenfield site be resisted by the LPA.
So if the government makes any move to accommodate the views of the National Trust and others on this point, they should be very careful in doing so not to inhibit or delay much-needed housing development.
© MARTIN H GOODALL