Countryside campaigners have warned that government proposals to drop its “brownfield first” policy risks neglecting areas in the West Midlands in need of regeneration.
A report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) challenges suggestions that there is a shortage of former industrial or business land for new housing in the region, and says the area of brownfield land is growing faster than it is being used.
Building in a Small Island – Why we still need the brownfield first approach found that “far from running out, the supply of brownfield land is dynamic and increasing”.
In the West Midlands, land supply outpaced demand between 2001 and 2009, with 13 per cent of suitable brownfield plots going unused. In England, only three out of every five suitable plots were used for housing in that time.
Gerald Kells, West Midlands Policy Officer for CPRE, said: “The idea that we’re running out of brownfield land in the West Midlands is a myth. Developing new housing on appropriate brownfield land first is the most environmentally, socially and economically sustainable option.”
A number of organisations, including the CPRE, are campaigning for changes to the proposed National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which distils 1,300 pages of planning guidance into 52.
The proposals also drop from the rules an explicit “brownfield first” policy. Instead it uses the expression, “land with the least environmental or amenity value where practical”, which campaigners say is not properly defined.
The CPRE said the government proposals “risk neglecting large areas in our towns and cities which need regeneration and place the countryside at risk” and called for the brownfield first requirement – introduced in 1995 to boost the regeneration of previously used urban sites before building on green areas – to be put back into the government’s planning policy proposals.
Joe Peacock from Birmingham Friends of the Earth backed the call for a brownfield first policy to be reintroduced. He said: “We have always backed a brownfield first approach. In Birmingham, there is a huge amount of brownfield land that could be used for housing. We need to protect employment land as well, and look at the way we plan things to ensure employment land and housing land are placed together, reducing the need to travel. There is no point putting housing on brownfield land if employment is then placed on green belt land, causing people to travel between the two.”
The CPRE’s report found that more than 143 square miles of brownfield land has been developed in England since 1995, “safeguarding large areas of green belt and other countryside across England”. It added: “If this had taken place on greenfield land, an area seven times the size of Southampton or over 52,647 football pitches, would have been lost to new development.”
The report said that there is sufficient brownfield land suitable for 1,494,070 homes in England – equivalent to around six years’ supply of housing at the rates the Government says new homes have to be built, or a 10 year supply if building continues at 2009 rates.
Under scenarios projected by the Government, the new NPPF could see the amount of greenfield land used for housing more than doubling, the report said.
Tom Bloxham MBE, Group Chairman and Founder or property developer Urban Splash, also backed a brownfield first approach. He said: “The renaissance and growth of towns and cities requires the renewal and regeneration of the continuously replenished supply of sustainably located brownfield sites rather than urban sprawl into the countryside.”
Those who oppose the brownfield first policy being reintroduced into the National Planning Policy Framework include the Home Builders Federation, which claims it has led to “garden grabbing”.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “The draft policy would require that councils’ plans should allocate land with the least environmental value. That means brownfield sites would be prioritised for regeneration except – as in the case of urban nature reserves – where they have become ecologically valuable.”