Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis has announced the availability of new funding to encourage councils to develop brownfield sites for new housing.
The government has set aside £200 million to help create 10 housing zones on brownfield land where it will be easier to build new homes quickly. The new zones, which will be outside London, should be large enough to deliver 750 to 2,000 properties.
Mr Lewis said housing zones will help councils boost housebuilding while making the best possible use of previously-developed land so the countryside is safeguarded.
Since 2010 the government has taken steps to ensure brownfield land and existing properties are prioritised for new housing development, including abolishing current regional strategies, which earmark green belt land for new development and selling enough publicly-owned surplus brownfield land for 100,000 new homes by 2015.
Mr Lewis said councils should now follow the government’s lead. Across the country there is enough brownfield land to deliver up to 200,000 new homes, and ministers expect to see planning permissions covering 90 per cent of this land to be in place by 2020.
Brandon Lewis said: “We need to build more homes in this country, but it’s also vital we protect the countryside that people rightly treasure. That’s why the government is offering councils a share of £200 million to prioritise development on brownfield land.
“The new dedicated housing zones will transform disused and derelict land, and ensure the new homes are built quickly in a process that is more straightforward for councils and builders.”
However, it remains to be seen whether this will be enough of an incentive to councils, like Peterborough, who are sitting on land in rural areas already earmarked for development or where the Homes and Communities Agency – Peterborough again – hold rural land that appears ripe for development.
Mr Lewis was quick to respond to criticism from the national press that the government had in fact increased the amount of residential development in the greenbelt.
He said: “This government has been very clear that Green Belt protection continues, and the most recent official statistics show that the level of Green Belt development is at its lowest rate since modern records began in 1989. We have fortified the Green Belt by abolishing the last government’s top-down Regional Strategies, selling our surplus brownfield land for redevelopment, and introducing more flexible planning rights so empty and underused buildings can be brought back into productive use.
“Local plans are now at the heart of the planning system, so councils decide where development should go. There is enough brownfield land to deliver up to 200,000 new homes, and councils should be using their powers and the support that’s available from the government to prioritise development on these sites, and defend our valuable countryside against urban sprawl.”
I’m not sure this will be the case in areas like Peterborough where it makes commercial sense for the HCA to sell its land holdings to developers and where council leaders would like their egos massaged by pushing through development in areas long-coveted by the self-serving and the greedy.