England councils told to prioritise brownfield developments and be more “flexible” to increase housing stock

Credit: AdobeStock/Philip J Openshaw
Credit: AdobeStock/Philip J Openshaw

The government has announced that it will be telling every council in England to prioritise brownfield developments while instructing them to be less bureaucratic and more flexible in applying policies that halt housebuilding on such land.

The “major shake-up” to planning rules will boost housebuilding in line with the government’s long-term housing plans while protecting Green Belt, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said.

The bar for refusing brownfield plans will also be made much higher for those 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, making it easier for developers to get permission to build on previously developed brownfield sites.

This comes after the Secretary of State Michael Gove asked Christopher Katkowski KC to lead a review of the London Plan in light of consistent disappointing housing delivery in the capital.

The DLUHC has now published Katkowski’s review which has recommended the presumption in favour of brownfield development, noting that such a policy in the capital could potentially result in up to 11,500 additional homes per year.

consultation on these proposals was launched yesterday [13 February] and will run until Tuesday 26 March.

The government plans to introduce these changes in London as a result of poor housing delivery in the capital.

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 this week will extend current permitted development rights, so that commercial buildings of any size will have the freedom to be converted into new homes.

Commenting on the policy changes, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “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.”

Michael Gove said: “Today [13 February] 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.”

Industry reaction

Commenting on the policy shake-up, Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), commented: “House building rates have fallen flat, and urgent action will be necessary in order to deliver the volume of homes that Britain needs. I welcome the government’s proposals to make it easier for permission to be granted for building on brownfield sites, and the planned requirements for local councils to be less bureaucratic in preventing house building. But we must take these ambitions beyond the big cities.”

He continued: “Small house builders must be at the heart of these plans, not just major developers. Brownfield sites are the mainstay sites of small builders, helping to rejuvenate run-down sites back into high quality housing. But we must also look beyond big cities and at the type of homes being delivered. There is a lack of affordable housing in the countryside, where small house builders once thrived. There are a wealth of brownfield sites outside of our major cities, but they are often overlooked in local plans, this must be addressed.”

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