Unlocking brownfield sites< Back to Blog

Brownfield1 The housing crisis in the UK is something we regularly hear about in the news, along with an estimate that, to fix the problem, between 225,000 and 275,000 new homes are needed each year. That represents a 50% increase in current housebuilding levels.

To help achieve this, the government has backed the development of several new towns and villages which have the potential to deliver more than 200,000 houses across the country. But, while this is certainly an ambitious new settlement programme, it won’t be enough to fulfil those yearly housebuilding targets.

So, what else can be done?

With the option of building on England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ being a consistently unpopular choice, another more obvious solution is to prioritise brownfield development.

In the UK a brownfield site is defined as ‘previously developed land’ that can potentially be redeveloped. It is often (but not always) derelict land that has an industrial/ commercial history and comes with the possibility of contamination.

In England there are 66,000 hectares (620 km2) of brownfield sites. Of this, 54% is derelict or vacant, while the remainder is being used but has potential for redevelopment. Around a third of these sites are located across greater London, the South East and East. In November 2016, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) claimed that existing brownfield sites could deliver somewhere between 1.1 and 1.4 million new homes!

What are the advantages of brownfield development?

  • Reducing derelict/ uncared for land or properties improves the quality of the built environment and can reduce crime.
  • Locating new homes close to existing infrastructure and jobs can create vibrant communities that support the town/ city’s economy; promotes walking, cycling and use of public transport; and reduces costs by connecting to existing roads and utilities.
  • With the government instructing local councils to speed up the development of derelict or underused land for new homes, there’s some potential for developers to access funding and benefit from fast-tracked planning permissions, all of which means people can occupy the new homes quicker.
  • Helping to protect rural/ agricultural land from being developed offers a host of environmental and ecological benefits.
  • With smaller sites being more manageable for small-medium sized developers, a brownfield development strategy can promote greater diversity in suppliers and encourage innovation in design.

What are the down sides?

  • Brownfield sites must be assessed for hazardous compounds by an experienced environmental consultant and any identified contaminants must be removed (by remediation) before they can be redeveloped. This presents both time and cost implications for potential developers.
  • Brownfield sites may initially appear unattractive and physically constrained, meaning a greater commitment has to be given to the design stage of construction.
  • While planning departments have been directed to speed these types of redevelopment projects up, in reality this isn’t always the case, particularly if there are issues to resolve with adjoining neighbours.
  • At many brownfield sites, the number of potential units will be limited, meaning they give reduced returns for any developer taking them on.

Our view

Brownfield3 - makeover neededFrom a developer’s point of view, the most significant constraint to working with brownfield land is the additional cost and time involved in site preparation. However, to us, the benefits clearly outweigh this and any other disadvantages.

By cleaning up environmental health hazards and eyesores, brownfield development can make vast improvements to the built environment that many of us live within. By creating homes and employment opportunities for local people, it can contribute to the significant regeneration of an area. By keeping construction within already existing towns/ cities, it can help promote conservation and protect wildlife. Above all, with so much of this unused or underused land available we think it’s the best solution for meeting future housing needs.