Brownfield Development

What is a brownfield development?

'Brownfield' land is an area of land or premises that has been previously used, but has subsequently become vacant, derelict or contaminated. This term derived from its opposite, undeveloped or 'greenfield' land. Brownfield sites typically require preparatory regenerative work before any new development goes ahead, and can also be partly occupied.


Brownfield land gained political significance after the Government set a national target in February 1998 to ensure 60 per cent of all new developments were built on brownfield land.

In planning terms, local authorities use brownfield development to help regenerate decaying inner urban areas. This approach is deemed preferable to developing on green space.

Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS3) published in November 2006, reiterated the Government's commitment to the 60 per cent target for new homes built on brownfield land, stressing that local authorities should continue to prioritise brownfield land in their plans and "take stronger action" to bring more brownfield land back into use.

The national regeneration agency English Partnerships was tasked by the Government to work with government departments and a wide range of stakeholders to develop a National Brownfield Strategy for England.

Subsequently the National Brownfield Forum was established to oversee the implementation of the National Brownfield Strategy and report annually on its progress. The Forum held its first meeting in February 2009 and further meetings were scheduled to be held quarterly.

The Coalition government published a new draft National Planning Policy Framework on 25 July 2011 for consultation. The new simpler framework will streamline planning policy from over 1000 pages down to just 52, the aim being to "improve clarity and unblock the system."

However, the proposals attracted widespread criticism from environmentalists and conservation groups concerned about too much emphasis being placed on "sustainable growth" and too little on prioritising brownfield development and protecting green spaces.

The consultation closed on 17 October 2011 and the Government is expected to make several amendments to the wording of the framework in order to address the many concerns that have been raised.


Businesses and developers are often unenthusiastic about developing on brownfield sites because of the expense of clearing contaminated areas and the limitations on building growth.

The planning process is often seen by some as a major stumbling block to increasing brownfield development: obtaining the necessary permissions can be delayed by negotiations over clean-up operations and other concerns.

This can be the case with housing, where brownfield areas may not be suitable for gardens, although they are usually adequate for city apartment developments. Developers are sometimes accused of being more inclined to construct more profitable, larger 'executive' housing in attractive rural settings, rather than redeveloping decaying areas with limited space.

Planning guidance is also sometimes said to be contradictory on flood risks, with PPS3 prioritising brownfield development, while PPS25 favours development in low-risk flood areas. This problem is reinforced by evidence suggesting land at risk from flooding will significantly increase by 2050.

A further area of controversy was the designation of gardens as Brownfield. Planning guidance had previously placed gardens in the same category as derelict factories and disused railway sidings, leading to the practice of so-called 'garden grabbing' where an increasing number of new houses were built on back gardens. Councils and communities were powerless to prevent this erosion of green space in their area and environmentalists raised concerns about the impact on urban wildlife.

In response the Government unveiled plans in June 2010 to take gardens out of the Brownfield category. The Department for Communities and Local Government said the move would dramatically transform councils' ability to prevent unwanted development on gardens and thus enable them to protect the character of their neighbourhoods.

The publication of the Coalition's draft National Planning Policy Framework put out for consultation in July 2011 proved highly controversial. House building had slumped to its lowest level since 1924 and the Government stated that it would "create a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the planning system".

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said it feared that pressure on the countryside from damaging development would grow due to "loss of emphasis on brownfield regeneration as a result of the removal of the national brownfield target and the failure to promote efficient use of land."

The National Trust thought the draft NPPF "threatened to put short-term economic gain ahead of all other considerations, including the impact on local communities and local green spaces."

The Countryside Alliance thought it was "a shame that for such an important policy the debate has become so polarised" and welcomed many of the provisions in the NPPF, seeing them as "a crucial part of providing the much-needed growth in the rural economy."

However, chief executive Alice Barnard thought organisations like the National Trust and the CPRE were right to raise concerns over some parts of the guidance, "in particular the ambiguity around who has the final say on any proposed development".

Criticism of the draft NPPF became so vociferous that the Government felt obliged to publish a 'National Planning Policy Framework Myth-Buster' which included the following:
"Myth: The presumption in favour of sustainable development will mean that every application has to be accepted.  Fact: Not true. The presumption is not a green light for development.  Myth: Communities won’t be able to protect green spaces or countryside. Fact: Not true. Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other designated land will retain the protections they enjoy today."

Less controversial has been the Government's decision to make publicly-owned brownfield land available to house-builders, a move particularly welcomed by organisations such as the National Housing Federation who suggested that the land should be free to housing associations to help them provide "desperately needed affordable homes."

According to the Government's Housing Strategy published in November 2011, the freeing up of formerly used public sector land could deliver up to 100,000 new homes.


The latest information indicates local authorities identified an estimated 63,750ha of Brownfield land in England, up 2.6% from 62,130ha in previous year.
An estimated 32,400ha was derelict or vacant, 51% of the total. The remaining 31,250ha was in use but with potential for redevelopment.

Source: Homes & Communities Agency - 2011


"The Countryside Alliance believes that planning decisions should be made at a local level, making full use of local experience and local knowledge. We believe that this middle-ground, with its emphasis on localism, will - alongside the Government’s planning simplification - benefit those areas that wish to increase their housing provision or rural businesses looking to expand, without compromising the safety of our precious natural environment.

The Countryside Alliance chief executive Alice Barnard - 2011

'"We're pleased that the government plans to make publicly-owned brownfield land available to kick start housebuilding.
"It should be made available free to housing associations in order to allow them to build desperately needed affordable homes."

The National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr - 2011

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