INFOGRAPHIC: Is our brownfield Green Belt up for grabs following the Spending Review?

The chancellor’s spending review announced ambitious targets for home-building, unlocking development on brownfield sites in the Green Belt.  The ramifications for Colnbrook could be immense where most of the Green Belt is various shades of brown – but it may all swing on definitions yet to be decided.

INFOGRAPHIC-how brown is Colnbrook's Green Belt

Much of Colnbrook’s open Green Belt land is actually brownfield which Mr Osborne has now said should be released for housing. But ‘brownfield’ has never been formally defined. The location of the Third Runway is shown shaded in grey.

Brownfield sites located in the green belt will now be developed in the same way as other brownfield sites, “providing it contributes to starter homes, and subject to local consultation” following this week’s Spending Review.

While Sirius SBC Renewable’s bid to build a Solar Farm on Green Belt was thrown out on Thursday, would an application to build housing be waved through?

The term ‘brownfield’ has a colloquial meaning referring to land previously used for industrial purposes or some commercial uses, including land that has been contaminated with hazardous waste or pollution or is feared to be so.  So what does this mean to Colnbrook where much of the open Green Belt land has been infilled with waste, some of it hazardous?  Has the chancellor just opened the floodgates to development?

… many Green Belt sites classed as ‘brownfield’ contain a lot of valuable open land, often historic parkland, which should be kept undeveloped

Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), certainly appears to think so.  In response to the spending review he said on Wednesday:

“Although we welcome a focus on brownfield development, we’re wary of moves to develop brownfield sites in the Green Belt – many Green Belt sites classed as ‘brownfield’ contain a lot of valuable open land, often historic parkland, which should be kept undeveloped.”

Earlier in November the CPRE published a report “Set up to Fail” which found that most local plan housing targets were not only undeliverable but based on an unsound methodology that over-forecast need.

Last month the Berkshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) found that Slough needed to build 927 new homes per year, more than twice the number currently planned – which itself is more than double the level actually achieved over the last five years.

On top of that the Airports Commission has estimated that between 22,900 and 70,800 new houses will be required across fourteen boroughs if a new Heathrow runway is built, and Slough has acknowledged that land will be hard to find. In January it indicated it may push for changes to Green Belt designation if a Third Runway goes through and on Wednesday it said it wanted residents to help find land on which to build new houses.

In terms of Town and Country Planning the meaning of ‘brownfield’ has never been properly defined.  However it is frequently combined with the technical term ‘previously developed land’, which is.

In 2012 the National Planning Policy Guidance, which refers to ‘brownfield’ but does not define it, set a definition for ‘previously developed land’ as:

“Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be assumed that the whole of the curtilage should be developed) and any associated fixed surface infrastructure. This excludes:

  • land that is or has been occupied by agricultural or forestry buildings;
  • land that has been developed for minerals extraction or waste disposal by landfill purposes where provision for restoration has been made through development control procedures;
  • land in built-up areas such as private residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and allotments; and
  • land that was previously-developed but where the remains of the permanent structure or fixed surface structure have blended into the landscape in the process of time.”

The closest the Government has come to defining ‘brownfield’ itself was a consultation by the Department for Communities and Local Government Building more homes on brownfield land between January and March this year.  Initiated under the Coalition it suggested using the NPPF definition for ‘previously developed land’ with four additional constraints:

  • Deliverable.  Available and not in current use.
  • Free of Constraint.  Not impacted by “severe physical, environmental or policy constraints”, including Green Belt designation, unless they can be mitigated.
  • Capable of development.  In a condition and location that would make it a genuine option to attract interest from developers.
  • Capable of supporting five or more dwellings.

However, the consultation is still in the status of “analysing feedback” and no policy changes have yet to be announced.

Mr Osborne’s announcement could yet mean almost anything.

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