Will Brownfield Land Registers help solve the housing crisis?

In April 2017, the government announced the introduction of Brownfield Land Registers. Their purpose is to encourage more brownfield sites to be developed for housing. The deadline for putting Registers in place is 31 December, so we’re beginning to see them produced. But will they make a difference to the housing crisis?

What are Brownfield Land Registers?

The Registers come in two parts; ‘Part one’ identifies those previously developed sites where a council considers residential development would be appropriate, regardless of their planning status. Of course, planning permission will still be needed before any development can take place.

To help speed up the delivery of development – and to maximise the use of brownfield sites – a council can choose to place a site on ‘Part two’ of its Brownfield Land Register. After meeting some consultation requirements, this will result in the site being granted the new planning status of ‘Permission in Principle’. Just as it sounds, this means that the principle of new homes on a site is acceptable, but leaves  the technical details – such as design, drainage and highways impacts – to be dealt with in the future.

By making clear where housing is acceptable and reducing planning risk, the government hope the grant of a Permission in Principle will encourage developers to bring more of these brownfield sites forward. That would have the twin benefits of increasing housing supply and re-using brownfield land (reducing the number of greenfield sites needed as a consequence).

How is it working in practice?

With the deadline for putting the Brownfield Land Registers in place almost here, the first Registers are emerging and we’re starting to get a picture of how they’re working.

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be “not very well.”

The list of sites on ‘Part one’ of the Brownfield Land Registers that councils believe are suitable for development isn’t new information. It can already be found in Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments, which councils are already obliged to prepare.

The real benefit of the Registers is the inclusion of sites on ‘Part two’ – granting Permission in Principle and speeding up delivery.

However, it looks as though hardly any sites are being included on Part two.

The Greater Manchester experience

Greater Manchester has a growing housing crisis. Its leaders are already grappling with the politics of the scale of Green Belt release that is needed to ensure housing need can be met (the last draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework was proposing 60,000 homes on the region’s Green Belt). The region would therefore seem exactly the type of location in which Brownfield Land Registers and Permission in Principle could help.

A Manchester City Council report from 15 November sets out its position on the Registers. The council decided not to grant Permission in Principle for any brownfield sites because of concerns as to how well they could control the schemes in future. “In particular,” the report noted, “permission in principle could result in a land value that makes the most sustainable and/or high quality development unviable.”

In a similar report from 14 November, Salford City Council explained that “no work has been undertaken by the city council relating to Part two of the brownfield register given that it is not currently obliged in any way to include sites.” The report also confirmed the council’s view that “granting permission in principle on sites is unlikely to lead to any notable increase in the number of dwellings coming forward.”

The eight other local authorities that make up Greater Manchester have also opted to leave Part two of their Brownfield Land Registers empty.

The consequences

As the list of sites on Part one of the Registers is already available, if councils don’t use Part two, there isn’t a lot of point in having the Registers at all.

If councils in an urban area with the challenges of Greater Manchester are unwilling to place sites on Part two of its Brownfield Land Register, we have to wonder who will.

This neatly illustrates two issues with the planning system. The first is that endlessly tinkering around the edges is unlikely to have a significant impact on the supply of new homes. The second is the degree to which councils want to try to retain tight control over how and where development takes place. As we’ve considered elsewhere, this is the reason planning constraints are responsible for around 35 per cent of the value of the average home in the UK.

Despite the redevelopment of brownfield sites being politically more acceptable, the reaction to Brownfield Land Registers shows that it is still far from simple.

While the system is complex, it is still possible to secure planning permission for new homes on brownfield sites if you go about it in the right way. However, that complexity – and the associated expense – discourages many landowners from even trying.

That’s where The Strategic Land Group can help. We’re a land promotion company that specialises in securing planning permission on all types of sites – even brownfield ones – at our cost and risk. If we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost you anything. Our return is a share of the value of the site once it is sold, so you can be sure our interests are aligned from the start – maximising the value of your site.

If you know of a site that could benefit from our expertise, get in touch now for a free consultation without any obligation.

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