New PPS3 to increase focus on brownfield development

England’s brownfield land could be used more effectively and efficiently following new policy proposals published by the national regeneration agency, English Partnerships. The proposals acknowledge the importance of reusing brownfield land for a full range of activities, including housing, employment, recreation and open space as well as increasing wild life habitats.

Publication coincides with the launch by DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) of a new Planning Policy Statement on Housing, which confirms a continuing focus on brownfield land. The proposals are designed to improve the rate of reuse of brown field land and a bring in a series of measures to help 'unlock' difficult sites.

This initiative follows work carried out by officials from the department and staff from English Partnerships, who make up the National Brownfield Team. The discussion paper highlighted research that indicated a huge stock of land and sites. In 2005, this totalled some 53,291 hectares of land, comprising around 25,500 sites which had once been developed but are now derelict, vacant or occupied but considered suitable for redevelopment.

Just over half was in the private sector with around 11 per cent owned by local authorities, the paper noted.

The task force identified a number of factors which are restricting brownfield land reuse. These included:

  • Complexities and delays associated with obtaining approvals and permits
  • Differing requirements from planners and environment regulators on the supporting information needed for applications
  • Separate approval process
  • Multiplicity of ownerships/interests in the land
Professor Paul Syms, National Brownfield Adviser to English Partnerships, says that the proposals build on an existing strong culture for reusing previously developed land. ‘We already have a good track record in England for recyling brownfield land but there are many barriers that make the process less efficient and less attractive than we would like.  Our proposals aim to increase the beneficial reuse of brownfield land and buildings, including tackling some of the more difficult, long-term derelict and vacant sites that can often blight communities.’

Six ‘over-arching principles’ that aim to ensure the country’s 63,000 ha of previously developed land is used to better effect have been identified. These include focussing on the widest possible range of uses, not just housing; that efforts should be concentrated in areas where existing infrastructure has the capacity to support redevelopment; and that all future uses should, where possible, help support families and assist in combating anti-social behaviour.

The recommendations are the result of a three-year consultation programme, carried out in conjunction with DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) and involving Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), the Environment Agency and other Government departments, along with local authorities and private sector stakeholders.  

The complex issues surrounding the reuse of brownfield land, and possible approaches as to how these might be addressed, will form the basis of a stakeholder consultation workshop to be held on 13 December. Following this, English Partnerships will submit detailed policy recommendations to Government early in the New Year.

The workshop will also be the venue for the launch of the Brownfield Guide: a practitioners guide to reusing brownfield land, a ‘best practice’ toolkit aimed at disseminating the experience of English Partnerships’ and other organisations that are actively involved in reusing brownfield land.

The policy proposals and strategic principles are published in ‘Brownfield Strategy, Policy consultation workshop – Discussion paper, Policy issues and outline proposals.’

In a written statement by Yvette Cooper MP, Minister for Housing and Planning on 29 November 2006, it was confirmed that there would be a continuing focus on brownfield land, retaining the national target that at least 60 per cent of new homes should be built on brownfield.  Local authorities will need to continue to prioritise brownfield land in their plans and will need to set their own local targets to reflect available sites and support the national target.  They will also need to take stronger action to bring more brownfield land back into use, supported by the new National Brownfield Strategy led by English Partnerships.  In response to the consultation DCLG has also introduced new safeguards so that local authorities can ensure their brownfield approach is delivered, to support regeneration and to prevent developers concentrating only on greeenfield sites.

In 2005 the National Land Use Database of Previously Developed Land (NLUD) recorded a total of 53,291 ha of land (comprising more that 25,500 sites) that, having been developed, are now lying derelict or vacant, or although still occupied, was considered suitable for redevelopment.  Grossed up to take account of the local planning authorities’ estimates as to the completeness of their data; and to take account of the small number of non-returns, the survey arrived at an estimated figure of 63,400 ha for previously developed (brownfield) land in England.

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