1. Governance
July 10, 2015

This one map shows why brownfield land won't solve England's housing crisis

By Jonn Elledge

Today the British government announced a shake-up of the planning system intended to get England’s housing industry building again. We’ve summarised it below. It’s good: most people in the housing sector seem to think it will help.

But what it won’t do is magically solve Britain’s housing shortage, for one very big reason. These reforms are focused entirely on “brownfield land” – that is, land that’s already been built on. Some of that is in places people don’t want to live; some of it is so contaminated it’d be too expensive to clean up.

But most importantly, there simply isn’t enough of it. Not. Even. Close.

Check out this map from the planning consultancy, Nathanial Lichfield & Partners (NLP). It compares the Department for Communities & Local Government (CLG) projections for how many homes we need in each English region, with how much brownfield is available to build them:



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In the north west, the region where brownfield gets you closest to target, there’s enough land for around 63 per cent of demand. In London it’s less than half (46 per cent).

In the regions surrounding it, though – those places which will inevitably end up helping meet London’s housing need, but where brownfield land is harder to come by – there is vastly less even than that. In the east of England, which includes the Home Counties of Essex and Hertforshire, it’s just 20 per cent. In the south east (Kent, Surrey, etc) it’s 21 percent.

In all, NLP estimates that England has brownfield capacity for 1m new homes. Over the next 15 years it needs 2.3m.

This morning, business secretary Sajid Javid said that building on the green belt was absolutely off limits.

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of today’s policy changes, on which Parliament will now be asked to vote:

  • Automatic planning permission for development on “suitable” brownfield land;
  • An enhanced compulsory purchase system, giving ministers powers to seize disused land;
  • Automatic permission for developers who want to extend buildings in London upwards to the height of their neighbours;
  • Stronger planning powers for the mayors of London and Manchester.

It’s a start. It’s good. But it’s far from clear it’s good enough.

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