Brownfield First

£1.8bn to Deliver Homes on Derelict Land

Hundreds of thousands of new homes will be built on derelict and unused land through a £1.8 billion package of investment to regenerate land and level up across the country, announced by the Chancellor in his Budget and Spending Review.

£300 million of locally-led grant funding will be awarded to Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Authorities to unlock smaller brownfield sites for housing, promoting inner city regeneration and protecting the countryside.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak has said: “We are investing in better quality, safer, greener and more affordable homes to create thriving places where people want to live. One of my favourite pastimes is to go for walks in the park with my family, and I want to make sure everyone has green space on their doorstep to enjoy too. Transforming our unloved and neglected urban spaces will help protect our cherished countryside and green spaces, while improving the physical and mental health of our communities.”

A new £9 million Levelling Up Parks Fund that will enable Local Authorities to transform over 100 neglected urban spaces across the UK into ‘pocket parks’, providing small green oasis in built up areas, roughly the size of a tennis court, in built-up locations.

We warmly welcome any moves to ensure that urban regeneration is promoted in a sustainable way that greens our environment, fosters bio-diversity and improves the quality of life.

Sustainable Development & Levelling Up among ideas considered in Brownfield First

There has been a dramatic drop in new residential projects on land that had already been developed, from 40% in 2014, to just 20% in 2018.

EIC argues in their recent launch that brownfield development can help meet ambitions around levelling up, but in order to do so further planning reforms, as well as new tax reliefs and development incentives, are required.

The proposals in the report for the greenfield surcharge, which would be added to the infrastructure levy proposed in recent planning changes, would see the funds earmarked by local authorities for infrastructure spending to help mitigate the higher development costs often associated with brownfield.

Commenting on Brownfield FirstMatthew Farrow, director of policy at EIC, says: “Our analysis shows that developers are making significantly less use of brownfield, yet there is huge potential for it to deliver ambitions around levelling up. Not only can it help find the space for 300,000 homes a year, but it can also funnel new investment to those traditionally underfunded post-industrial towns, cities and communities.

“Our practical, common-sense proposal around a greenfield surcharge would revitalise brownfield development, help to deliver homes, and ensure that we are making the most of this chronically underused asset.”

Additionally the report seeks improvements to the economic viability of marginal brownfield projects by increasing land remediation tax relief on sites with fewer than 25 units, and to update the definition of derelict land to incorporate all sites that have been abandoned for more than a decade.

Finally, it argues that new funding earmarked for levelling-up, either through the new National Infrastructure Bank or the Levelling Up Fund, should specifically favour brownfield proposals over greenfield.

The London Plan

On the 29 January 2021 the Secretary of State wrote to the Mayor confirming that he is content for the Mayor’s new London Plan to be formally published, with no further changes. 

The Mayor will now progress to formally publish the new London Plan. This will take a few weeks, in order to allow for statutory notifications to be issued alongside other administrative tasks.

EPUK Release a Guide to Redeveloping Petrol Filling Stations

This timely document is entitled Before You Dig, Garages & Petrol Stations, Guidance for Developers, EPUK. David Rudland et al.

EPUK say “This guide has been produced now because we anticipate alternative fuels will make many of the 8500 retail forecourts in the UK surplus over the next 5-10 years or so. Repurposing this kind of brownfield site presents particular challenges of the sort that drive some developers to seek greenfield sites instead.

The guide describes how petrol stations were constructed, operated, and decommissioned, outlining particular issues around decontamination and signposting towards further guidance. Tips for good practice and case studies appear throughout.

The Government is Launching a National Brownfield Map

On 12 March 2020 the Government published a policy document entitled ‘Planning for the Future‘ which sets out its plans for the delivery of housing and further reforms to the planning system.

Within the document the government undertakes to launch a national brownfield sites map in April 2020. It will also conduct a call for proposals to seek evidence on the barriers to, and opportunities in, building above stations in urban areas. We are not entirely sure why the government appear to see these two items as inextricably linked.

The document goes on to say “It is vital that we make the most of existing transport hubs, encouraging modern, green communities where people live close to public transport.”

We await the publication of the map with bated breath.

Building on Enfield’s Green Belt Would do Little to Solve the Housing Shortage, Claim the CPRE

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says building on the green belt would only provide low-density housing that would not be classed as affordable.

Working with local bodies the CPRE says it has identified the potential for 37,000 homes on previously developed land thus removing the need to build on the green belt.

Enfield Council has proposed building on small segments of the green belt – which covers around a third of the borough – in a bid to more than triple the rate of housebuilding.

Alice Roberts of CPRE London said “The type of low-density housing which is typical of green belt developments will contribute little towards the borough’s housing target.” … “Building on Enfield’s green belt would mean giving up large swathes of valuable green land for very few new homes – and those will predominantly be expensive homes.”

The CPRE says the council should focus on building “high-quality, high-density” developments in areas like Southbury as a means of addressing the housing shortage.

More information can be found in the Enfield Independent

Builders Shun Brownfield Sites to Dig up Green Belt – The Times 12 December 2017

An article in The Times declares that research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows that sites with the capacity for nearly 200,000 homes are missing from the official Brownfield Registers. With limited resources local authorities tend to concentrate on the larger sites, meaning that this vital resource of smaller sites is overlooked.

We have extensive experience of providing advice on small sites and are on the steering group for the CIRIA small brownfield sites report, which is due to be published shortly with advice on developing small brownfield sites.

We provide comprehensive support to guide clients through the process of obtaining discharge of contaminated land planning conditions, if you are considering buying or developing a small brownfield site do not hesitate to call 020 8291 1354 or

The London Plan; The Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London

The Mayor has published a draft for public consultation, about which he says “So this London Plan sets out a new way of doing things, something I am calling Good Growth.” If you have any comments the consultation period runs to 2 March 2018.

The report has quite a lot to say about housing and the use of brownfield sites.

Efficient Land Use

In a section titled “Making the best use of land” the report points out that “London’s population is set to grow from 8.9 million today to around 10.8 million by 2041… This rapid growth will bring many opportunities, but it will also lead to increasing and competing pressures on the use of space. To accommodate growth while protecting the Green Belt, and for this growth to happen in a way that improves the lives of existing and new Londoners, this Plan proposes more efficient uses of the city’s land.”

The report then develops the theme of more efficient land use:

“1.2.2 The key to achieving this will be taking a rounded approach to the way neighbourhoods operate… This will mean creating places of higher density in appropriate locations to get more out of limited land, encouraging a mix of land uses, and co-locating different uses to provide communities with a wider range of services and amenities.

1.2.3 The benefits of this approach are wide-ranging… High-density, mixed use places support the clustering effect of businesses known as ‘agglomeration’, maximising job opportunities… They are places where local amenities are within walking and cycling distance, and public transport options are available for longer trips, supporting good health, allowing strong communities to develop, and boosting the success of local businesses.

1.2.4 Making the best use of land means directing growth towards the most accessible and well-connected places, making the most efficient use of the existing and future public transport, walking and cycling networks…

1.2.5 All options for using the city’s land more effectively will need to be explored as London’s growth continues, including the redevelopment of brownfield sites and the intensification of existing places, including in outer London. New and enhanced transport links will play an important role in allowing this to happen, unlocking homes and jobs growth in new areas and ensuring that new developments are not planned around car use…

Policy GG2 Making the best use of land

To create high-density, mixed-use places that make the best use of land, those involved in planning and development must:

A Prioritise the development of Opportunity Areas, brownfield land, surplus public sector land, sites which are well-connected by existing or planned Tube and rail stations, sites within and on the edge of town centres, and small sites.

B Proactively explore the potential to intensify the use of land, including public land, to support additional homes and workspaces, promoting higher density development, particularly on sites that are well-connected by public transport, walking and cycling, applying a design–led approach.

C Understand what is valued about existing places and use this as a catalyst for growth and place-making, strengthening London’s distinct and varied character.

D Protect London’s open spaces, including the Green Belt, Metropolitan Open Land, designated nature conservation sites and local spaces, and promote the creation of new green infrastructure and urban greening.

E Plan for good local walking, cycling and public transport connections to support a strategic target of 80 per cent of all journeys using sustainable travel, enabling car-free lifestyles that allow an efficient use of land, as well as using new and enhanced public transport links to unlock growth.

F Maximise opportunities to use infrastructure assets for more than one purpose, to make the best use of land and support efficient maintenance…

Delivering the housing London needs

1.4.5 To meet the growing need, London must seek to deliver new homes through every available means. Reusing large brownfield sites will remain crucial, although vacant plots are now scarce, and the scale and complexity of large former industrial sites makes delivery slow. Small sites in a range of locations can be developed more quickly, and enable smaller builders to enter the market. Building more housing as part of the development of town centres will also be important, providing homes in well-connected places that will help to sustain local communities…

Increasing housing supply

Policy H1 urges that: boroughs should optimise the potential for housing delivery on all suitable and available brownfield sites through their Development Plans and planning decisions… Boroughs should proactively use brownfield registers and permission in principle to increase planning certainty for those wishing to build new homes…

Small Sites

Under Policy H2 Small sites the report says that: Boroughs should increase planning certainty on small sites by:

1) identifying and allocating appropriate small sites for residential development

2) listing these sites on their brownfield registers

3) granting permission in principle on specific sites or preparing local development orders…

Vacant building Credit

In section 4.9.1 there is a reminder that: “In 2014 the Government introduced a Vacant Building Credit (VBC), which applies to sites where a vacant building is brought back into any lawful use, or is demolished to be replaced by a new building. The VBC reduces the requirement for affordable housing contributions based on the amount of vacant floor space being brought back into use or redeveloped. This has significant implications for delivery of affordable housing in London where a high proportion of development is on brownfield land where there are existing buildings.”

Download the plan

Permission in Principle

New powers enabling local planning authorities (LPAs) in England to grant planning ‘permission in principle‘ (PiP) for new housing on certain categories of land will speed up the delivery of new homes, the government has advised.

LPAs are now required to produce and maintain up-to-date, publicly available registers of local brownfield land available for housing. Land listed in ‘part 2’ of these new brownfield land registers will be the first category to benefit from automatic PiP for housing-led development, before the new power is rolled out to other categories of land later this year.

The registers are to be split into two parts. Part 2 of the register should list land which has been allocated by the LPA for residential development following set procedures. This is the land to which PiP will apply.

PiP is designed to separate decision-making on issues such as land use, location and amount of residential development from matters of technical detail, thereby reducing opportunities for delay to new housing development during the planning process. Where PiP has been granted, a scheme will receive full planning permission once the LPA has consented to the technical details. The acceptability of the ‘in principle’ issues cannot be reopened at the technical stage. Once granted, PiP for a site will last for five years unless the LPA specify otherwise.

Statutory guidance for local authorities will be published by June 2017, and will explain the role of brownfield registers and PiP in more detail, according to the government.

Not all the legislation and guidance is in place for PiPs and it remains to be seen how effective they will be in accelerating permissions.

Brownfield Registers

Councils in England and Wales are to get new tools to speed up the development of derelict and underused land for new homes, Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell has advised.

Brownfield registers were piloted in 2016, when 73 local planning authorities from across the country pioneered the measures.

All local authorities in England and Wales will now have to produce and maintain up to date, publicly available registers of brownfield sites available for housing in order to help house builders to quickly identify suitable brownfield sites.

Communities will be able to highlight local derelict or underused building sites that are primed for redevelopment thereby encouraging inward investment and increase the number of new homes in the area.

‘We need to build more homes in this country so making sure that we re-use brownfield land is crucial. We want to bring life back to abandoned sites, create thousands more homes and help protect our valued countryside. These new registers will give local authorities and developers the tools to do this,’ Barwell stated.


Proposed Changes to NPPF

The Department for Communities and Local Government has published a Summary of Consultation Responses, question 7 has particular relevance to brownfield development.

“Question 7. Do you consider that it would be beneficial to strengthen policy on development of brownfield land for housing? If not, why not and are there any unintended impacts that we should take into account?

Total number of responses 899; Organisational 588; Personal 211.

The majority of respondents were broadly supportive of proposals to strengthen policy on development of brownfield land for housing, and some called for the Government to reintroduce a policy requiring brownfield land to be developed before greenfield land. However, many also expressed concern at the possible unintended consequences about the Government’s proposed approach.

Respondents felt that it was important: i) to retain local determination in order to ensure policy is applied within the context of the local market conditions; ii) that brownfield sites should only be considered as suitable for development where they have adequate access to services and amenities; iii) that they can be retained for employment purposes in circumstances where there is a demonstrable need; and iv) that the delivery of housing on brownfield land should not be to the detriment of affordable housing provision. Other respondents felt that brownfield sites can be environmentally sensitive, and that there is a need to ensure that the planning process affords appropriate weight to this aspect. They also considered that inclusion of sites on the brownfield register should not override other policy considerations.

Some respondents felt that existing policy was adequate to bring forward brownfield land for development, while others expressed concern about the viability of brownfield sites and suggested that financial incentives should be considered to make brownfield more attractive to developers. Some respondents also expressed concern about the relationship between permission in principle and the brownfield register.”

Brownfield Registers – Pilots Published

The Government has piloted a set of open data standards for publishing information on brownfield land suitable for housing. Over 70 authorities took part in the pilot and the majority have now published their ‘brownfield registers’. Local authorities will be required to prepare and maintain these registers from this spring. The aim is to ensure that nationally consistent information on suitable brownfield sites is kept up to date and made publicly available for communities and developers.

“Brownfield first” needs more funding

In a recent item entitled “fresh approach needed for housing location” the RTPI argued for a rounded approach to use of both greenbelt and brownfield sites, siting the need to avoid emotional debates caused by a lack of confidence in decisions and to enable greenfield sites and green belt sites to be regarded more positively by local authorities, politicians and communities.

RTPI’s statement re-affirms the continued importance of using brownfield land as a priority, but it warns that this policy will fail if there is insufficient funding and a lack of remedial programmes to make sites ready for development and accessible to transport.

Phil Williams, RTPI President, said:

“’Brownfield first’ can only work with accompanying public investment. Without Government help in de-risking and making ready brownfield sites with upfront infrastructure, many sites will never come on stream.

Brownfield First Report from the Environmental Industries Commission

The report looks at the practical issues and economics of brownfield development  with the aim of encouraging a positive approach to the subject by government, local authorities, developers and BrownfieldFirstconstruction and property professionals. The EIC has this to say:

The UK’s rich industrial heritage, rising population and a constrained space makes the reuse of previously developed or brownfield land an essential part of the delivery of new developments throughout the UK. Further establishing this need, Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) has launched the report, Brownfield First: making better use of our land, drawing on long-term expertise to identify ways in which development on brownfield land can be sustainably increased benefitting the environment and the economy.

While currently only 10-20% of development in the UK takes place on sites classified as brownfield, the latest statistics from the Homes and Communities Agency indicates that there is approximately 61,920 ha of brownfield land in England, with 54% considered derelict or vacant while the remainder is in some form of use with potential for redevelopment. DCLG figures (2010) suggests approximately 35,000 ha of this brownfield land is suitable for housing development, further establishing the potential of brownfield in creating sustainable communities combining housing, retail, as well as commercial or industrial development.

Brownfield First: making better use of our land is the latest is a series of EIC work on sustainable development, and contaminated land, a portfolio of work existing since EIC’s founding in 1995.

As stated by Peter Atchison, Chairman of EIC Contaminated Land Working Group, “Brownfield first offers the practical solution to two issues facing the UK: the need for more sustainable development and use of previously developed site.”

Recent reports have suggested that brownfield land has the capacity to support over 1.8 million new homes, yet despite this recent Government figures show a decline in the proportion of homes being built on such land.

It also includes before and after pictures of one of our projects!

Brownfield-first, say The National Trust and CPRE


The National Trust and CPRE say a brownfield presumption isn’t strong enough and a return to brownfield-first is needed. They have told the Government the best way to strengthen policy on brownfield housing development would be to constrain greenfield development when suitable previously developed land is available locally.

Both responses to DCLG’s National Planning Policy Framework consultation stress that greenfield permissions granted, without consideration of previously used sites, undermines brownfield development.

“Whilst we accept the need to bring forward additional housing, and support a brownfield-first approach, we do believe in good planning and consider that it is also important to ensure that sufficient employment land is available to provide jobs close to where people live,” says the Trust.

“Investing in brownfield development brings much wider public benefits than greenfield in terms of regenerating existing communities, making use of existing infrastructure, improving public health by remediating environmental nuisances such as contamination, and saving precious farmland,” says CPRE.

“Recent evidence also shows that brownfield development can secure a faster delivery of new housing.” But says CPRE, the NPPF gives only weak brownfield encouragement and fails to prioritize use of such sites before greenfield.

“Local plan policies to bring forward brownfield sites have often been frustrated by developers of competing sites being able to argue that their site is more economically viable to develop,” says CPRE. “As a result a number of brownfield regeneration opportunities have been stalled and greenfield sites nearby have been granted planning permission, often over the heads of local authorities.”

CPRE says urban brownfield sites should have priority in local plans and for funding over greenfield sites in the same housing market area.

The Trust says incentives for brownfield development are needed such as tax breaks on stamp duty for small sites sold for housing or allowing vendors to retain the first year’s New Homes Bonus on small sites.

Lords Join Brownfield-First Campaign


The Lords Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment has carried out an inquiry about house building. One of the recommendations contained in their report is for a stronger brownfield policy in England including the reintroduction of brownfield-first at national level.

“The Government has undertaken a range of initiatives to support brownfield development including introducing a £1bn ‘brownfield fund’ to help cover site remediation costs.” says the report.

The report also says “The introduction of permission-in-principle and a brownfield register to identify sites which are suitable for new housing development, as proposed in the Housing and Planning Bill, is intended to expedite the granting of planning permission on brownfield sites. It is, as yet, unclear how matters such as public consultation arrangements and scheme details such as resilience measures will be dealt with through the permission-in-principle route.”