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Housing: Brownfield Land

Volume 759: debated on Thursday 5 February 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote housing development on brownfield land, rather than greenfield sites.

In asking the Question standing in my name, I remind the House of my local government interests.

My Lords, we have given high priority to development on brownfield land and the Government have introduced a package of measures to accelerate the redevelopment of such land, including £400 million of loans to support 30 new housing zones. We also expect local authorities to put in place local development orders granting planning permission for new homes on over 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020.

My Lords, the proposals for the new housing zones are welcome but in areas such as mine in east Lancashire, private developers simply cannot recoup the cost of the land and of building the houses in their profits from the sales of houses in areas where house prices are very low by national standards. In these circumstances, do the Government understand that loans are no use at all because they cannot be recouped, and that what is required is direct gap funding of the difference between the cost to the developers of producing the houses and what they can get for the sale or rent of those houses?

My noble friend makes a valid point about the need to encourage housing development. In that regard, I can also point him to the estate regeneration fund, currently standing at £150 million, to revitalise housing estates. But we are seeing take-up of the housing zones initiative. Indeed, in London, for example, it has been matched by the mayor by a further £200 million.

My Lords, what are the advantages of promoting housing development on the green fields, which are meant to be preserved?

My Lords, my noble friend raises an issue and a concern but, on the contrary, the Government—and, indeed, the national framework—are seeking to protect the green belt, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Development in the green belt generally is very inappropriate and it would be permitted only in very special circumstances. Even then, that is very much in the remit of the local authority. Our green belt policy provides rigorous protection against all unwanted and unnecessary development.

My Lords, under Section 62A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, local planning authorities can be designated as underperforming where the speed or quality of their decisions has fallen below a prescribed threshold. The Government are proposing to extend this measure so that authorities could also be designated where they did not meet the objective of bringing forward sufficient coverage of local development orders on brownfield sites. It seems to have all the potential of a bureaucratic nightmare with a fluctuating baseline. How many councils are currently designated under Section 62A? Given the huge cuts endured by local authorities, disproportionately borne by services such as planning as councils strain to support adult and children’s services, what assessment have the Government made of the capacity of councils and the Planning Inspectorate to cope with the proposed arrangements?

I do not agree with the noble Lord. Our intention is to ensure the freeing-up of brownfield sites. With the objective that we seek to achieve on new homes—I know that it is an objective that he and his party share—it is important that we look across the country and ensure that all brownfield sites are released. The initiatives that we are taking reflect that. On the noble Lord’s specific questions about councils, I shall write to him.

What are the Government doing about the brownfield sites that they own? Figures that I saw in the Financial Times three or four weeks ago showed that the Government own enough land to build 2 million houses on brownfield sites. Surely that would be a mechanism for dealing with the cost of remediation, which is clearly the problem in certain parts of the country outside the south-east.

The noble Lord makes a valid point. The Government are undertaking to ensure that all surplus land that they own and falls under that designation is sold. Such initiatives are being taken to support housebuilding across the country.

My Lords, land is very finite in this country. Will my noble friend reinforce the comments that he made about the importance of the green belt and maintaining it? Daily, we read about threats to Constable country and other glorious parts of the United Kingdom. It is crucial that this Government do not go down in history as one who allowed the despoiling of some of the most beautiful parts of this country.

My noble friend again raises the issue of the green belt, which has remained a constant at 13% of land across England. I assure him that the Government are greatly committed to protecting our green and pleasant land.

My Lords, the Minister will no doubt be aware of the aggressive behaviour of some developers—I choose Gladman as an example—in pursuing their wish to develop on greenfield sites in desirable locations. Often, their applications are initially turned down by local authorities, but they then pursue local authorities to appeal, where the developers are able to spend a great deal of money and the local authorities are not. Therefore, the appeals are often successful. What are the Government doing to restrict the activities of developers who behave in this way?

I think no one welcomes developers acting on that basis. The only elements within the green belt that are looked at in planning for housing are those that are designated as brownfield sites. If there are instances such as those that the noble Baroness has raised, such applications can be called in by the Secretary of State. Where such malpractice is seen, I would encourage that to be done.

What proportion of the 15,000 homes to be built at Ebbsfleet, which is entirely brownfield, will be allocated to social housing? Will a minimum amount of social housing be prescribed for all the new towns that are planned?

As my noble friend knows, every local development plan reflects the need for social housing to give the correct mix. That will be reflected in the Ebbsfleet development. I am pleased to say that we are moving forward on that. I hope that legislation before this House will ensure progress in that area.

My Lords, did the Government meet the target of replacing all the social housing being sold off with a new housing unit? What are the figures? If the Minister does not have those with him, could he please write to me and put a copy in the Library?