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Five reasons why we should use brownfield first

Five reasons why we should use brownfield first

As winter’s icy hand slowly loosens its grip and the green shoots of the new season brings new life to our fields and hedgerows, spring gives us a timely reminder of the beauty of the English countryside. For many people it’s their workplace; for others an escape from the pressures of everyday life; for many more simply a patch of green in which to walk their dog. Whatever your relationship with the countryside, the joy it brings is worth defending.

As a countryside charity, this is why we care deeply about where development goes, and why we want to see regeneration of previously used land prioritised over building on our countryside: because it helps protect the pleasure so many derive from our green spaces.

The government has to play a role in this. The Prime Minister has said building the homes we need ‘doesn’t have to mean destroying the open countryside we all treasure’. And now the government’s review of planning rules means she has the opportunity to put these words into action.

In the jargon, ‘brownfield land’ is any piece of land that has previously seen development – from car parks to factories to office buildings. While a handful of these sites are valued by local communities and wildlife, the vast majority are wasted space – derelict and unused, ugly and in need of regeneration.

Contrast this with ‘greenfield land’ – sites that have not seen any development previously – which can range from farmland to valued local green oases, and it’s easy to see which should be prioritised for development.

But how do we ensure that these wasted spaces are turned into the new homes we need, and help protect the countryside? We need a brownfield first approach to development, and here’s five reasons why.

Why brownfield first?

  1. It has massive potential

Thanks to our campaigning, each local council has a register of available brownfield land in their local area, so we now know that councils have already identified enough brownfield land for at least 1 million new homes – a massive contribution to the homes we need for the future. And these sites are available now - brownfield land could fulfil three of the next five years’ worth of housing need.

  1. Recycling is good!

Recycling and repurposing land is as important as recycling our household waste. England has a finite amount of land, and it’s important we use it well. Brownfield is also a renewable resource – as our towns and cities change, so does our use of land – meaning new opportunities are identified all the time.

  1. They’re usually quicker to build

Brownfield sites are developed, on average, six months quicker than greenfield sites, once they have planning permission. The reasons for this are complex, but when we need to deliver new homes, quickly, the potential should not be overlooked.

  1. It helps create vibrant places to live

Repurposing derelict land can be a breath of fresh air to communities, attract new investment and regenerate our cities for the better. Homes built on brownfield land are often located near to existing infrastructure, transport and services.

  1. It helps us save our beautiful countryside

Our countryside brings us so many benefits: it improves our mental wellbeing, cleans our air and grows our food. If we build on our countryside we lose these benefits forever.

Why are we talking about this now?

Critical decisions about where we build are made through the planning system, and the government has embarked on a major review of these rules – the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) - and we’ve got a huge opportunity to shape them for the better. We want to see the planning system rebalanced to put more value on community and environmental interest, and prioritising the use of brownfield land is central to this goal.

Steps in the right direction

Our campaigning so far has had a huge impact. The NPPF contains a lot of positive words, including calling on local councils to make ‘as much use as possible of previously-developed or “brownfield” land’. It also calls for ‘substantial weight’ to be given to using suitable brownfield land within towns and villages, and supports opportunities to decontaminate polluted sites to help us make the best use of brownfield land.

It’s also positive that it says local authorities should take a proactive role in identifying and helping to bring forward land, and encourages for use of digital tools for community engagement, two measures we called for in our 2017 report Unlocking Potential.

We’ve still got far to go

Despite these improvements, the reforms don’t go far enough. The government continues to state that it has a brownfield first policy, but the reality is: it doesn’t. Without a policy that empowers councils to refuse greenfield development where there are suitable brownfield alternatives, valued countryside will continue to be lost while derelict land and local eyesores remain idle. Simply ‘encouraging’ development is not enough.

Just because brownfield sites can be more complicated,  this should not be taken as an excuse to not focus on the multiple benefits of their regeneration. With a nudge in the right direction even Europe’s most polluted site, the Avenue Coking Works in Wingerworth, has been decontaminated and is now ready for development. It’s now home to a beautiful new wildlife reserve, with homes for local people and a school on the way.

With the potential to deliver over a million new homes, the government must make the most of this opportunity to ensure that the capacity does not go to waste, and commit to a genuine brownfield first policy.

We might not be able to build every single home the country needs on brownfield sites, but it’s vitally important that we properly consider those options first. To do otherwise is to devalue our beautiful and unique countryside and deny future generations the chance to love it as we do.

We’re going to need your support to put pressure on the government. Keep your eyes peeled for how you can help us win this campaign!

How do we ensure that wasted spaces are turned into the new homes we need, and help protect the countryside? We need a brownfield first approach to development

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