How many homes could we build on brownfield land in England in 2019?

Over the last few years, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has produced an annual report analysing the amount of brownfield land in England that could be made available for housing. It coincided with legislation requiring local authorities to publish lists of brownfield land sites, revealing a broader picture for the first time of just how much of this land exists across England.

So what do the latest numbers say in CPRE’s 2019 report? And what could the implications be for home builders?

How much brownfield land is there?

According to the CPRE’s State of Brownfield 2019 report, 338 published brownfield registers from local authorities identify more than 18,200 brownfield sites covering more than 26,000 hectares. According to the CPRE, and even allowing for a relatively low housing density of 41 homes per hectare, England has sufficient brownfield land to build more than 1 million new homes.

While planning is in place for some sites, there remains capacity for more than half a million homes where planning has not been approved.

Brownfield developments sites – a renewable resource?

The statistics become a little blurry when looking at trends. For example, the CPRE calculates that more than 2,600 sites have been added to the registers since February 2018, yet the total area of sites has decreased by 8%. It is possible that some sites or parts of sites have been reclassified or removed from the register altogether, though the reasons for doing this are often unclear.

Nevertheless, the CPRE argues that the changes show brownfield sites could be considered a renewable resource for new housing, as land use changes over time.

How many brownfield sites can deliver new homes?

Local planning authorities must record whether they consider a site is deliverable. Confusing the picture a little more is inconsistency around what is meant by “deliverable.”

The Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017 state that deliverable means “a reasonable prospect that residential development will take place on the land within 5 years beginning with the entry date.”

In the National Planning Policy Framework 2018 (revised again in 2019), sites recorded on brownfield registers “should only be considered deliverable where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years.”

More local authorities (303) have recorded some of their sites as deliverable, compared to the 288 in 2018.

Planning permission has been granted for more than 535,000 homes, but this represents only half of the total capacity of England’s recorded brownfield sites. The Government expects 90% of suitable sites to have planning permission by 2020, so there is some way to go to meet this target.

How many brownfield site homes are being built?

Unfortunately, new-build progress or completions on sites on the brownfield registers are sketchily reported. Only 361 sites with a minimum capacity of 22,000 homes are clearly shown as under construction or completed.

Implications for housebuilders

The CPRE is continuing to lobby government to introduce a “brownfield-first” policy, which would mean prioritising brownfield sites for development and allowing authorities to refuse applications that “do not represent an efficient use of land.” The updated NPPF stopped short of this, though recommended “substantial weight” must be given to the value of reusing brownfield land.

The CPRE also wants the Government to prioritise funding to unlock stalled brownfield sites suitable for housing.

For their part, local authorities will be pushed to maintain and build on the data contained in the brownfield registers, so that they “act as a true pipeline.”

The CPRE’s State of Brownfield 2019 report can be downloaded from its website here. Its Brownfield Data download also includes links to each local authority’s brownfield site register.

Every care was taken to ensure the information in this article was correct at the time of publication.

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