Bureaucracy blocks UK brownfield housing development

Copyright: David Lawson– Property Week Feb 1999

Home page

Bureaucracy, ignorance and rising taxation could stifle demands for more housing on brownfield sites, according to Britain's top builders. Planning must  be streamlined and planners educated about contamination and land assembly problems to encourage sustainable development, says a study of the industry by the College of Estate Management. It also calls for a single powerful agency to co-ordinate development and funding

  This is  a dash of cold reality after release of the latest Planning Policy Guidance draft (PPG3), which reinforces demands  for 60% of new housing  to be built on brownfield land and tells planners to  examine every developed site through 'sequential testing' before considering greenfield sites.

  The study, sponsored by Fairview and English Partnerships, says more than half the builders questioned are already increasing brownfield activity.  'Developers are willing to develop problem sites provided the risks are known and quantified,' says the report.

 But uncertainty and confusion is rife. There is no single definition of a brownfield site and contamination rules are too vague. Planning procedures are getting longer because of the number of agencies involved through  new measures  such as the landfill tax and pending Environment Act regulations.

 Planners are also accused of lacking  understanding about contamination, which can drag out consultations and lead to excessive clean-up costs.  The landfill tax may be environmentally self-defeating because social housebuilders face have problems meeting  site investigation costs and could  skimp inspections. Private builders are also encourage to re-use waste on site because of the extra costs.

 The tax was expected to cut site values  rather than push up  property prices, but  land owners often refuse to absorb the extra cost. More than 80% of builders complain that brownfield sites are overpriced.

  The study calls for a 'more universal and coherent' strategy for brownfield development and a single co-ordination agency. The Urban Task Force has no powers,  but the merger of Commission for New Towns with English Partnerships to support new regional development agencies offers a 'prime opportunity' to sort out the problems.

Waste not, Want not? - College of Estate Management tel: +44 0118 9861101