An article in today’s Daily Telegraph at last lends support to what so many campaigning organisations have been calling for over the last 2 years since the inception of the NPPF.
The mad dash to build houses has seen great swathes of our beautiful countryside concreted over in an attempt to build ourselves out of recession. These sites are cheaper for developers to desecrate as there is no existing infrastructure to dismantle first, but to pander to the development industry is a mistake if it means that we are condemning our greenfields to urban sprawl.
Brownfield sites will often be sited in urban areas close to jobs and close to shops, with the transport infrastructure already in place. Brownfield sites are rarely suitable to be returned to food production … making them the obvious choice of site for more housing.
Eric Pickles’ U-turn is a welcome breath of fresh air in the battle between Philistine developers and countryside campaigners. However, the cynic in me has to wonder whether Mr Pickles’ beady eye is on the 2015 General Election with a slowly dawning realisation that the previously safe Tory heartland isn’t quite as safe as it used to be, following the disastrous implementation of the NPPF…
There is enough brownfield land in Britain to build 200,000 new homes, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles says
We’ve always been a green and pleasant land: and we must stay that way, preserving the best of our countryside and other green spaces. But we’ve also been facing a serious housing shortage in this country, and we’ve got to increase supply in line with demand. I’m determined that we rise to that challenge without building unnecessarily on undeveloped land. The way to do that is to use brownfield better.
It makes more sense to have new homes in existing urban areas, where people have easy access to the jobs, shops, transport and service on offer. And with careful management of public services and transport, existing residents benefit too, from regeneration and new investment in infrastructure.
That’s why our priority is – and always will be – building on brownfield land: land that has been previously developed. New figures being published today show that there’s enough of this land for 200 000 new homes across more than 5000 hectares.
But the trouble is, until now much of it has been hard to access or utilise in the best way: perhaps because it needs a thorough clean up or services need to be connected. So now we’re pulling out all the stops to make it easier so these homes get built as soon as possible.
We’ve already taken important steps in the right direction. Government has a strong programme of selling off publicly owned land. So far we have released 560 sites with the capacity for more than 76,000 homes. And there is more to go.
And Britain is building again. In the last financial year planning permission was granted for 216,000 new homes in England. Housing starts are at their highest level since 2007 and we have already delivered more than 445,000 new homes since April 2010.
We have also been tackling the problem of empty homes – a real waste and blot on the landscape. Under our watch the number of homes without inhabitants has fallen to a ten year low in England and the number of long-term vacant properties has been cut by a third since 2009.
And we have reformed permitted development rights to free up the planning system and encourage the conversion of existing vacant buildings into much-needed dwellings. It is now easier and cheaper to turn empty commercial property into new homes in towns centres and to transform agricultural buildings into housing for rural communities. We are also bringing homes closer to the high street by making it easier to covert shops, financial and professional buildings.
We plan to go further still this summer, consulting on a package of proposals including converting former warehouse and industrial space into new homes for families. But we can go further by working with councils to get brownfield land ready for housing as soon as possible.
For example, we want local authorities to agree local development orders for the land, making it easier, quicker and cheaper for developers to get building. As an incentive, we’ll be investing £400 million in ironing out any problems on thirty of these new ‘Housing Zones.’ These will be completely groundbreaking projects which will transform currently wasted space into new housing.
As we all recognise, the need for new housing is particularly acute in and around London. But at the same time, we know there’s lots of brownfield land around. So twenty of these Housing Zones will be in the capital, with £200 million of government funds to be matched by London Assembly investment. At the same time, we are giving the Mayor new powers to sort out stalled developments or councils which aren’t responding quickly enough. And we’re investing £150 million in regenerating some of our most deprived estates.
There are also steps which councils can – and should – take themselves. For example, we want to encourage councils to sell off land and assets which aren’t being used productively so that they can be turned into houses. We can all think of disused buildings or wasted space which might be put to better use in our own communities. Some councils are already adopting this – like Hartlepool, which has sold 11 sites since last May – but all of them should be taking action. We also introduced a Right to Reclaim Land for people to use if they don’t think their council is acting quickly enough. And we want to see councils supporting that by being open and transparent about what they own. Finally, councils should be identifying land which has previously been developed and is ripe for new housing, and making sure it’s included in their local plans.
Locally-led collaboration will get a lot more homes built than conflict. By working together with councils and developers, we can turn currently disused, abandoned and wasted land into the new homes we so desperately need. That way, we can also protect and enjoy the beautiful fields and forests, the village greens and the urban parks, that we all value so much.