A new name and a new policy emerged today covering incentives to build on brownfield sites in urban areas in preference to building on greenfield sites in the country. The Treasury will put £200 million of taxpayer’s money towards the cost of getting the brownfield sites ready for new homes. With this scheme, councils will be given the chance to set up new housing zones in urban areas across the country. The government has said that there are a possible 200,000 homes which could be developed on such derelict land, although other sources put this as up to 800,000.

Brandon Lewis, the new Planning and Housing minister, said the cash would ensure that greenfield areas across England are protected from builders, because it would mean that developers’ resources were more focused on meeting a share of housing need in towns and cities. Telegraph

Strangely though, it does not appear to cover brownfield sites located in rural locations, such as the former industrial site at Brantham, Suffolk. The development of this site was conditional upon a neighbouring area of farmland being given up to co-development, as compensation for clearing the site and eliminating some ground pollution. If funding were available to clear this particular site it would meet the aim of developing the site with housing and the greenfield site could stay as open farmland.

However, there a few catches to this. The policy is directed at urban areas which seems to assume that rural locations do not possess derelict land. Councils and developers who apply for this funding will have to demonstrate that they can build homes quickly. This has some dangers that it might lower the standards of the properties and the site designs in a haste to get the work done. Also, access roads, water and sewage, electricity, gas, and other infrastructure needs would have to be addressed at the same fast rate. Further, the local authorities will have to commit to building between 750 and 2,000 new homes.

In principle the scheme could help to provide more homes in a shorter period, and to take pressure  away from pristine greenfield sites. However, there has been no sign that whilst the new policy and the cash are evidence of sensitivity to the strong opposition to greenbelt erosion, the government is going to back away from the change in planning laws which put the greenbelts at risk in the first instance.

In London, under a separate bidding process, some £400 million, twice the amount for the rest of the country, is being made available for new brownfield homes in London, run by Boris Johnson the mayor of London and party leader aspirant.

Locally, we should nevertheless look at this policy in regard to a possible solution to the situation at Brantham or other suitable areas, as a way of moving forward with the regeneration, but without having to commit to building on farmland.

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