England’s hidden brownfield sites

From heritage buildings to sites too small for councils to register, brownfield land may be more abundant than we think.

Brownfield Land Registers are failing to record the small brownfield plots that could provide space for an extra 188,734 homes across England, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) recently found.

In his autumn budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond set out a proposal that 20% of new homes be built on small sites so ‘that brownfield and urban land be used as efficiently as possible for housing development’.

An initial audit of already submitted brownfield land registers by CPRE shows that less than 4% of current registered brownfield land is on small sites of up to 10 homes. If councils are to meet the Chancellor’s 20% small site target on brownfield, an additional 188,734 homes across England could be unlocked.

CPRE also commissioned Unlocking Potential, research investigating how local authorities are identifying brownfield sites for the new registers. They found that local authorities routinely disregard small brownfield sites, despite the fact that these usually have existing infrastructure, such as good rail and road links, access to local amenities and proximity to existing communities. They are particularly valuable in rural areas, such as in villages and market towns, where much needed development can be provided without encroaching on the surrounding countryside.

Reasons given for not including these sites include: lack of local authority resources to identify small brownfield sites; perception among builders that the planning system is too burdensome and complex when considering small sites; and lack of transparency in the way that land data is collected, which discourages participation from different sectors, including the local community.

Rebecca Pullinger, CPRE’s Planning Campaigner said, “Up and down the country tens of thousands of small brownfield sites are not included in Brownfield Land Registers and their housing development potential missed. The current system of collecting this data must be improved if we are to unlock the potential of brownfield, and stop developers finding an excuse to build on greenfield areas.”

Meanwhile, Historic England is calling for industrial mill buildings to be at the centre of regeneration and new publication showcases viable new uses for old mills.

Historic England has identified floor space for 25,000 new homes in Greater Manchester and Lancashire alone. 85% of England’s population say they are against demolition and replacement of mills, with 70% saying they should be considered for new housing, offices and public amenities before constructing new buildings, and this number rises to 79% among those from the North of England.

Catherine Dewar, Historic England’s Planning Director in the North West, said, “With their ability to accommodate wonderful homes, workplaces and cultural spaces, our historic mill buildings deserve a future and should not be destroyed. They helped make us who we are in the north of England and have a profound impact on the physical and cultural landscape.

Mills have so much to offer in terms of space, character and identity. By shining a light on successful regeneration projects, we hope to inspire others to recognise the potential of our former industrial buildings and start a conversation about their future.”

John Glen, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, announced in a speech the latest historic places that are set to be revived through the Heritage Action Zone scheme, which is run by Historic England. The towns and cities to receive support, concentrated in the North and the Midlands, include Grimsby, once the largest fishing port in the world, Rochdale, the birthplace of the modern co-operative movement and Stoke on Trent, home of the pottery industry.

Heritage Action Zones first came into being earlier this year – the nationwide scheme supports local authorities to unlock untapped potential in places that are rich in history and historic fabric to help them thrive, and improve quality of life for communities and businesses.

Activity in each Heritage Action Zone is based on local need, and ranges from bringing back into use neglected listed buildings as housing, retail or community spaces; improving conservation areas to kick start regeneration; and developing historic sites as visitor attractions.

This is the second wave of Heritage Action Zones. Work is already underway in ten Heritage Action Zones across England.

In each place, work is carried out over three to five years with Historic England working in partnership with local authorities through grant funding, training and skill-sharing. The public body has teams across the country that equip councils to spot heritage potential, restore neglected places and ensure new developments reflect local character and identity.

Heritage Minister John Glen said, “Our heritage not only tells the story of our past, it creates great places to live, work and visit. The Heritage Action Zone scheme is designed to make the most out of the historic environment to kick-start regeneration, increase tourism and boost investment in our towns and cities.”

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