The Government is looking to use the Housing Bill to reduce the amount of legislation for the development of brownfield sites – arguing that legislation intended to protect both environment and building are unnecessary, ‘liberalising’ the planning system (1). This is with a view to building 200,000 homes by 2020, a number well below Labour’s target of 240,000 extra homes by 2016 (2) and lower still than that found within the ‘Review of Housing Supply’ report of 2014 (3). This would require having a statutory register of land that has previously been developed and would be suitable for housing. The Government’s Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation productivity plan introduces a new zonal system which will give automatic permission on suitable brownfield sites on this register (4). It is hoped that this system will reduce any unnecessary delays and uncertainty associated with developing brownfield sites.
The precise way in which the zonal system may work is not yet known, and it is unclear whether this may remove the need for Local Development Orders (LDOs) to be issued by Local Authorities for each individual site on their brownfield register (5). LDOs have previously been proposed as a means to speed up the normal planning process; however, there are concerns over how resource intensive this process could be for Local Authorities who are already affected by cuts from the Exchequer (6).
Whilst zoning systems are already used in other countries, they often involve various requirements that the developer must comply with to ensure they are economically efficient and do not cause harm to the environment (5). However the Government’s Fixing the Foundations document only states that automatic permission would be ‘subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details’ (4). Experts are predicting that it will still be necessary for there to be ‘checks and balances’ for development on brownfield sites, including Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening, and for issues such as contamination and flood risk to be considered (7). It would be ill-advised to ignore contamination as an issue as many brownfield sites require specific conditions when planning permission is granted due to potential contamination from previous use. Should this not be properly taken into account in the new legislation, the purchaser of the property is exposed to increased risk.
Whilst the new proposals have been welcomed by some, others have been quick to point out that there are other obstacles to redeveloping brownfield sites, such as remediation and infrastructure costs that may not be properly addressed through these measures (6). There has also been a critical response from nature conservation charities that have pointed out that ‘a small but important number’ of brownfield sites are very important for wildlife, especially invertebrates (8). The concerns raised with the proposal have yet to be addressed and until they are it is difficult to determine exactly how they may affect the process, the end users of the sites and the sites themselves.
Given the current lack of clarity on how the government intends to implement their plan, whether it be via a register or a zonal system, more questions will continue to be raised until it is resolved. One of the main questions that will be asked is ‘How will this affect future property purchasers?’. Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer to this question as it stands. One thing is certain; it remains vital for purchasers to fully understand the potential risks that may be associated with a property, whether they are around contaminated land, flood risk or even subsidence, regardless of whatever changes are proposed for the planning system around brownfield sites.
1. BBC News (2015) David Cameron unveils proposals to boost home ownership (online). UK, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-33393642, accessed 17th September 2015.
2. www.parliament.uk (2015) Housing supply and demand: key issues for the 2010 Parliament (online). UK, http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/key-issues-for-the-new-parliament/social-reform/housing-supply-and-demand/, accessed 17th September 2015.
3. Kate Barker (2004) Review of Housing Supply – Final Report Recommendations (online). UK, http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/17_03_04_barker_review.pdf, accessed 17th September 2015.
4. Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation, July 2015. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/443898/Productivity_Plan_web.pdf
5. Brownfield Briefing Issue 172, July/August 2015, Osbourne ‘fixes the foundation’.
6. Policy Briefing: Ministers seek speedier delivery of brownfield housing, 21st August 2015 by Jennie Baker and Francesco Mellino, Planning Resource. http://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1360175/policy-briefing-ministers-seek-speedier-delivery-brownfield-housing
7. Scope of automatic consent for brownfield homes questioned, 17th July 2015 by Jim Dunton, Planning Resource. http://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1356092/scope-automatic-consent-brownfield-homes-questioned
8. Wildlife-rich areas must not suffer at the expense of land development, June 2015. https://www.buglife.org.uk/news-&-events/news/wildlife-rich-areas-must-not-suffer-at-the-expense-of-land-development
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