Excellent blog from Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, (reproduced below) on the Cavitas report outlining the need to prioritise brownfield over greenfield sites for new housing (http://civitas.org.uk/pdf/IEGissue10.pdf).
Shaun Spiers was very supportive of Feniton’s fight against mass development at the Super Inquiry in January and the Secretary of the East Devon branch of the CPRE, Dr Margaret Hall, came to present a submission to the inquiry on housing numbers in East Devon.
A new report from the centre-right think tank Civitas gives welcome support to the case for building on previously developed brownfield land before encroaching on the countryside. Restoring brownfield sites in our inner towns and cities (http://civitas.org.uk/pdf/IEGissue10.pdf) by the industrialist Peter Haslehurst draws on the author’s considerable experience of how costly and difficult it is to remediate brownfield sites. The short report is full of good examples and is well worth reading.
Many brownfield sites require no remediation, but those that do are often eyesores that bring the rest of the town down. Without policy changes, the report says, ‘our towns and cities will continue to be scarred by ugly derelict sites left to rot and our beautiful countryside (which tourists cross continents to see) will be gradually eroded by building development’.
It argues that the UK should learn from the US and do much more to make brownfield remediation economically viable. In the US, for instance, firms get full tax relief to cover the costs of cleaning up contaminated land. UK government initiatives such as Get Britain Building should be adapted to give favour brownfield development.
One questionable part of the report is the estimate, based on 2003 data, that there is enough brownfield land in England for 2.5 million new homes. CPRE’s calculation is that there is enough for 1.5 million homes. This is disputed by the Government, even though it is based on government figures for 2009. The 2010 figures, which are not yet available online, show unsurprisingly an increase in the amount of brownfield land. But it has so far proved impossible to get more up to date figures (our Freedom of Information request was refused on the grounds that the reports for 2011 onwards are incomplete).
It would be good to have agreement on how much land is available, but whatever the figure it is clear that a good deal of land that could and should be developed is currently going to waste, while beautiful and productive countryside is being lost. This brownfield land could, if developed, go a long way to helping solve the housing crisis.
The Government is showing signs of recognising that it made a mistake in abandoning the focus on brownfield development which began under John Major’s premiership. But as the Civitas report shows, there is a lot more that it should do.