My Lords, we strongly encourage the development of brownfield land, which has an important role in delivering new housing. We have taken steps to maximise the number of dwellings built on suitable brownfield land, including through the introduction of brownfield registers.
My Lords, brownfield registers are welcome but they do nothing to bring forward brownfield land in areas where building houses on brownfield sites is not financially viable, such as where I live in east Lancashire. You cannot make a profit by selling them and you cannot get your return by renting them, because the local housing market is so depressed and prices are so low. Do the Government understand that to develop brownfield land in areas such as this, where the market is not viable, gap funding is required? What are they doing to help local authorities provide such gap funding?
My Lords, first, I endorse the good work done by Pendle Council in east Lancashire on brownfield sites. On the comment the noble Lord raised, which was essentially about grant funding rather than loan funding, Pendle has applied under the starter home fund with regard to brownfield land, and I also encourage a look at the Lancashire local enterprise fund with regard to competitive growth deals, which would benefit the area.
A consultation is going on at the moment about the technical aspects of rolling out brownfield sites. There will be a requirement for appropriate brownfield sites to be put on a register during 2017, but appropriate notice will be taken where there is some other use for a brownfield site, such as an allotment.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, especially in the wake of Brexit, there is a pressing need for the encouragement of higher investment in the economy, including public investment, and on brownfield sites? Given that, can the Minister give us an undertaking that the Government will raise the level of public investment from the current 1.5% of GDP to the 3.5% recommended strongly by the OECD?
My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware of the £20 billion already committed to housing over the length of this Parliament to deal with the serious issues he raises. It is well above my pay grade to go beyond that as regards what the Chancellor may do in the next Budget, but I am sure he will take account of the economic circumstances and that he will look closely at where we are when we get to that Budget.
My Lords, I worked on the ad hoc committee on policies for national housing and I take the opportunity given to us by the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to raise with my noble friend the Minister the committee’s report, which went to the Government on 11 February. Three times this week I have been told that the Government are about to make their response. I hope that when that response comes we will be able to have a debate on this issue, because it deals quite widely with brownfield sites. I just wonder what light the Minister can shed on it.
My Lords, other than agreeing with the noble Baroness about the importance of looking at this issue and moving it forward, I am not in a position to guarantee a particular date for a decision. We are looking at the consultation on some of the technical aspects of brownfield land but there is of course the obligation to roll out the national register. We have had 73 pilots, which we will be assessing. The national register will be rolled out next year, and that will be important in moving forward with housing.
This is not just about housing, important though that is—not least the fact that we are not building enough homes, especially affordable and starter homes; it is also about how we will solve some very difficult, long-term environmental problems relating to brownfield sites. Does the Minister agree that this really is an area where, for example, the housing association sector, with some quite focused work and grants, can make a huge difference both in solving environmental problems and in making a significant contribution to our housing shortage?
My Lords, a significant number of brownfield sites have already been assigned. Perhaps when we talk about brownfield sites there is an expectation that they will have seen heavy industrial usage. That may not be the case; it may simply be land that has been previously developed. That said, there are measures—not least land remediation relief from the Treasury—that will help where decontamination is an issue.
My Lords, last week the Economic Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House produced a report entitled Building More Homes. One of its recommendations was:
“A senior Cabinet minister must be given overall responsibility for identifying and coordinating the release of public land for housing”.
Much of that public land is of course brownfield land. Does the Minister agree that that is a very wise recommendation?
My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, that report was received just over 10 days ago. The Government will take time to look at it and will then respond. It is clear that we need to address many of these issues. The noble Lord will know that a lot of public land is already being used for housing. I think I mentioned earlier this week that we have land in Dover, Chichester, Gosport and north of Cambridge, and there is more coming forward that will contribute to alleviating the housing situation. Much, although not all, of that land is on brownfield sites.