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Brownfield planning changes – a missed opportunity?

Adam Bennett, Senior Associate Town Planning Consultant at KPPC Ltd, explains why brownfield development policies proposed for England’s top 20 largest towns and cities should be extended nationwide.

The government’s new consultation document ‘Strengthening planning policy for brownfield development’ is out for comment.

It seeks to build further upon the strong support given by The Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC) for the development of brownfield land and the fostering a brownfield first approach where possible.

This has included the introduction of Brownfield Land Registers in Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017. Whilst they prompted Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to look at the availability of brownfield land within their areas and where opportunities may exist to exploit this, very few sites have progressed from Part 1 of the Register where they are simply listed and given no formal stature or grant or permission in principle, to Part 2 of the Register whereby ‘Permission in Principle’ (PiP) is granted for these sites for housing led development schemes.

Looking at part of the South as an example, Dorset Council, BCP Council, New Forest District Council, New Forest National Park Authority, Wiltshire Council, Southampton Council, Portsmouth Council, Test Valley Borough Council and Winchester City Council have all prepared Part 1 Brownfield Land Registers. But none of the authorities have seen fit to proceed with a Part 2 register, or to go down the route of granting Permission in Principle to bring these sites forwards for development.

This has been somewhat of a wasted opportunity, therefore, and has not had the effect of driving forwards development on brownfield sites in the manner it was initially intended.

Furthermore, in the largest urban areas (20 most populous towns and cities) DLUHC has already made steps through ‘Urban Uplift’ to require authorities in this group to add 35% to their Standard Method for calculating housing needs, and increase building in what are considered to be the most sustainable locations to make best and most efficient use of land within towns and cities.

The new consultation prepared by the Government takes this one step further.

The consultation document proposes to make a change to national policy to require that LPAs ‘give significant weight to the benefits of delivering as many homes as possible, and to be flexible in applying policies or guidance on the internal layout of developments especially for proposals on brownfield land’. This requirement will apply to ALL Local Planning Authorities without exception.

Furthermore, the policy changes would require that LPAs ‘take a flexible approach in applying planning policies or guidance relating to the internal layout of development in these circumstances, where they would otherwise inhibit making the most efficient use of a site. This would extend existing national policy related to the consideration of daylight and sunlight, and the efficient use of land, when determining planning applications. National policy would continue to expect that new development would provide acceptable living standards’.

The clear shortfall in the approach proposed by DLUHC, however, is that ‘this change should only apply to policies and guidance related to internal layouts of development, and not apply to external design or layout standards of development’.

The consultation suggests that the Government is open to extending this flexibility to the external layout of development and therefore more broadly to matters of character therefore, but this could introduce complex conflicts with a strong approach also being taken to the delivery of ‘beautiful places’ and a focus on ‘local design codes’ that were the subject of recent updates to Section 12 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

The consultation seeks to impose more specific targeted action upon the Authorities with the 20 most populous cities if they are not delivering and meeting their needs. A new threshold as part of the Housing Delivery Test (HDT) will be introduced whereby falling below 95% of the required delivery over the past three years will see a ‘Presumption in favour of Brownfield Development’ imposed. The effect of which would be requiring LPAs to grant planning permission unless the impacts significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of the development.

This would not change the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ espoused by Paragraph 11 of the NPPF, which will continue to apply in the same way, including where LPAs have fallen below 75% of their required housing delivery over the past three years measured in relation to the HDT.

Whilst the approach to the most populous cities is lauded, there is no good reason why the other authorities with towns and cities should get off of the hook. These urban areas are just as capable of bringing forward the brownfield land in their areas, and indeed a pressure to ensure that these are brought forwards with the aim of meeting housing targets would not be unwelcomed by the development community. If the figures used by both sides of the political fence are to be believed, there are significant opportunities on brownfield land and in our urban areas that are simply not being captured.

If the general direction being taken by DLUHC with respect to reinforcing the protection given to green areas, and in particular the lauded Green Belts, is to be successful, it will be vital for opportunities which exist within our urban areas; and indeed on their fringes to be taken up. We will be seeking to encourage DLUHC to broaden their intended policy position in relation to the ‘presumption in favour of brownfield development’ and to see this extended to capture a much larger number of towns and all cities in our response to the government consultation.

Consultation on ‘Strengthening planning policy for brownfield development’ closes on March 26.

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