The ambition to prioritise brownfield over greenfield has challenged everyone involved in development, causing delivery to become slower, less effective and more politically toxic.
At the root of the problem is Planning Policy Guidance 3, which enshrined into planning policy the sequential approach of selecting brownfield sites over greenfield and proposed that 60% of all new homes should be built on brownfield land. While this remains a laudable ambition, it failed, producing several unintended consequences.
We need to revisit the resistance to greenfield housing, because some greenfield development is the only means by which a local plan-led system can deliver adequate numbers of homes.
Additionally, there is the assumption that there is enough brownfield land. Even with the greatest optimism, the UK is unable to deliver more than 90,000 homes per year on brownfield land.
To build more on brownfield sites requires a review of financing: the requirement for developers to deliver substantial amounts of affordable housing despite the relatively enormous (and increasing) costs of delivering on brownfield sites, along with the Community Infrastructure Levy, Section 106 costs and vacant building credits, is unrealistic.
Potential solutions include the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) proposal to allow land for affordable housing to be bought at existing use value. The NPPF should allow local plan-making to review green-belt boundaries.
It is also necessary to set dates for local plan reviews and stick to them. The carrot-and-stick approach is a planning free-for-all because unmet deadlines simply become Groundhog Days.
Finally, we need a more nuanced approach to the respective roles of greenfield and brownfield land in housing supply. Local planning authorities must be encouraged to use brownfield if they can; but if greenfield is the best option, they should be allowed to pursue this within a policy framework that maximises the delivery of affordable housing and contributions to social and community infrastructure.
Nick Taylor is partner in Carter Jonas’s planning and development team