The Forgotten Brownfield Sites

Posted on 05 May 2021

The Forgotten Brownfield Sites

We have all seen headlines over the past year about sweeping changes made by the Government to help release more brownfield sites for housing development, however are our local authorities (LAs) making the most of their brownfield registers?

Whilst the Prime Minister has confidently announced that “We will build fantastic new homes in brownfield sites and other areas” (CityA.M 30/06/20), do the LAs have the resources they need to ensure that this happens?

Are there valuable brownfield opportunities out there that are being missed?

We are aware that potential sites must fulfil certain criteria before they can be included in a brownfield register. For instance:

The site must be at least 0.25 hectares or capable of accommodating at least five dwellings 

On most standard building sites the average housing densities are 30 to 40 dph (dwellings per hectare). On large scale schemes densities can be 40 dph or even higher. 

But surely smaller sites of less than 0.25 hectares are also worth investigation? Even a small site might be capable of providing ten new properties, and if enough of these sites were developed this would make an important contribution towards addressing the UK’S shortfall in housing 

The site must be suitable for housing development

Is that necessarily all a brownfield site should be considered for? Given the faltering economy, could these unwanted sites also play a vital role in accommodating other uses, such as employment, care facilities, leisure uses, or battery storage? Or could they be transformed into green spaces to enhance the environments around our communities?

The site owner should have expressed their intention to sell or develop the site

Much clearer guidance is necessary on this point. What, for instance, constitutes an ‘intention to sell’? Does this need to be made in writing? And if a landowner shows no inclination to sell but the land/property remains in a dilapidated state, could compulsory purchase powers be brought into play?

Local authorities must be satisfied that development of the land will be achievable within 15 years

Again, much clearer guidance is needed on this. How is such a timeframe to be ascertained and how can it be guaranteed?

Given the acute housing shortage in the UK, fears over the potential loss of greenbelt land, and a marked disintegration in communities, often a result of the crumbling environment around them (vacant unused sites and buildings and areas prone to crime), the potential social and economic benefits to be gained from revitalising brownfield sites, whether it be for housing, employment, or community purposes, suggests that it is worth seeking out those forgotten brownfield sites. 

If the LAs are, as is often argued, seriously under-resourced, then surely it is time to involve the people who will benefit most from these changes. 

Our Land Hero website and app allows ordinary people to pinpoint derelict sites and draw attention to them. If local authorities are willing to work with their communities and address the existing criteria they have for inclusion of sites in brownfield registers, this could make all the difference. 

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