Government tells councils in England to build on brownfield land

The focus on brownfield land and urban development has been issued as part of the Government’s plan to deliver much-needed housing.

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The UK Government announces today that every council across England must prioritise brownfield development. All councils have been instructed to be less bureaucratic and more flexible in applying policies that halt housebuilding on brownfield land.  

The announcement comes as part of the Government’s long-term plan for housing, and building homes on brownfield land will be turbocharged under a major shake-up to planning rules to boost housebuilding while protecting the Green Belt. 

The bar for refusing brownfield plans will also be made much higher for big city councils who are failing to hit their locally agreed housebuilding targets. Planning authorities in England’s 20 largest cities and towns will be made to follow a ‘brownfield presumption’, if housebuilding drops below expected levels.

This will make it easier to get permission to build on previously developed brownfield sites, helping more young families find a home. 

“We pledged to build the right homes in the right places – protecting our precious countryside and building more in urban areas where demand is highest. Today’s package is us delivering on that. We are sticking to our plan and are on track to meet our commitment to deliver one million homes over the course of this Parliament, and the changes announced today will deliver the right mix of homes across England.” 

Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister

The Government is taking immediate action on its long-term plan for housing, which will deliver homes in the areas that need and want them the most – such as in big cities, where there is the highest demand and existing infrastructure to support new development.

“How the prime minister can claim to both be ‘delivering on his plan’ while also calling in the mayor’s housing strategy for ‘not delivering’ is beyond most of us. But by now, we are used to an Orwellian sense of Doublespeak where Michael Gove is so keen to get councils building that he removed the national targets we had in place to do just that. This is more of the same with not a single shred of policy designed at bringing in new money or making it easier to actually build. This government has wasted a period of free money and, rather than being radical during a period when it really has nothing to lose, it is still bowing to NIMBYs and shuffling the deck chairs while the country’s housing crisis – and its emerging rental crisis gets worse. We have an opportunity to attract institutional capital and build homes for rent which is something the industry has been saying for years. Yet ministers still seem hellbent on pursuing ownership at all costs and because of their unwillingness to face down NIMBY Britain, they will likely lose the support of millions of people who desperately want to see housing built for all tenures.”

Andrew Teacher, Senior Advisor, Montfort

In this Parliament, the data shows that the Government has delivered the highest number of new homes in a year for three decades. These reforms will aim to further support developers hoping to undertake major regeneration on brownfield sites, giving them more certainty by ensuring their plans are not unnecessarily blocked or held up by red tape.

Analysis published today as part of the London Plan Review shows that new brownfield presumption in the capital could potentially result in up to 11,500 additional homes per year. A consultation on these proposals will launch today and run until Tuesday 26 March. The Government will look to implement these changes to national planning policy as soon as possible.  

“Today marks another important step forward in our Long-Term Plan for Housing, taking a brownfield first approach to deliver thousands of new homes where people want to live and work, without concreting over the countryside. Our new brownfield presumption will tackle under delivery in our key towns and cities – where new homes are most needed to support jobs and drive growth.”

Michael Gove, Housing Secretary

The Government is also helping developers overcome bureaucracy by slashing red tape that stops derelict sites and unused buildings being turned into new homes. Legislation laid in Parliament will extend current Permitted Development Rights, so that commercial buildings of any size – such as shops, offices, and other buildings – will have the freedom to be converted into new homes, resulting in thousands of quality new homes that meet Green Belt legislation by 2030.

Alongside this, the Government is launching a consultation on proposals that would see more new extensions or large loft conversions freed from the arduous process of receiving planning permission.

In a major intervention before Christmas, Secretary of State Michael Gove asked Christopher Katkowski KC to lead a review of the London Plan – considering consistent disappointing housing delivery in the capital. Today the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has published Christopher’s review which recommended a presumption in favour of brownfield development.   

“I am delighted to see the idea which I together with my colleagues on the London Plan Review came up with of a planning policy presumption in favour of delivering new homes on brownfield sites being taken forward on a wider scale as part of a suggested change to the NPPF. The inspiration for the brownfield presumption came from the NPPF in the first place and so it is good to see the idea being brought back to its roots as an additional lever to encourage the delivery of new homes. I see this as a worthwhile and welcome change.” 

Christopher Katkowski KC, Lead Reviewer, the London Plan

However, to tackle development in the country’s other large cities and towns, the Government is proposing to apply this presumption to all of the 20 most populous urban areas where development has fallen below acceptable levels.

With this new approach, the Government aims to put rocket boosters under brownfield regeneration projects across the country to enable the delivery of new homes, without affecting existing protections including for residential gardens, and ensuring protection for the character of suburban neighbourhoods.