Thursday, November 18, 2010

Save Your Green Fields!

There is a pernicious paragraph of government policy that will unnecessarily lead to houses being built on hundreds of fields across the land.  To explain what it is and why it matters is a little bit tedious, but I ask you to read this carefully because of the danger being faced.

Across the country, local councils are engaged in a massive exercise.  They are building a plan that will ultimately say how many houses will be built and where over the next twenty years.  Very simply, this process decides
  • how many houses are needed
  • where they will be put
It's the second part of this we need to be aware of.  Houses can be built either on brownfield (ie previously developed sites such as disused factories) or greenfield (previously undeveloped) land.  As part of the process of building the plan, council officers look at what brownfield land is expected to become available.

However, there is a third category of land we might build on.  Indeed, we build on it every year.  These are so-called windfall sites: previously-developed land that was not known about when the plan was drawn up but that becomes available later.  Pretty much every year developers build housing on windfall sites in my district, and this is common elsewhere as well.

So what you would expect is that a local plan for development in any one district or borough would have a table along the following lines

    Number of new houses needed   10,000
    Houses built on brownfield sites   4,000
    Houses built on greenfield sites    5,500
    Houses built on windfall sites         500

As you can see, windfall sites are a small but significant proportion of the total.  The number can be estimated without too much difficulty by using trends over the past few years.  The 500 houses in the above example would cover a good-sized field.

The problem comes in Planning Policy Statement 3, paragraph 59, which reads

"Allowances for windfalls should not be included in the first 10 years of land supply unless
Local Planning Authorities can provide robust evidence of genuine local circumstances
that prevent specific sites being identified. In these circumstances, an allowance should be
included but should be realistic having regard to the Strategic Housing Land Availability
Assessment, historic windfall delivery rates and expected future trends" 
In short, councils are effectively forbidden from including an estimate of windfall sites when drawing up the 20 year plan.
The result is simple.  Instead of the table above, you'll get
Number of new houses needed   10,000
Houses built on brownfield sites   4,000
Houses built on greenfield sites    6,000

Those 500 houses that would have been allocated to windfall sites are now set to be built on greenfield land.  Repeat that process across hundreds of districts and boroughs throughout the country and you will see hundreds of fields being built on unnecessarily.

What do we need to do to avoid this?  The government needs to withdraw paragraph 59 of PPS3, or change it to allow authorities to make a reasonable estimate of what windfall sites may be expected to become available.

This won't happen unless enough MPs feel it's a problem.  So please write to your local MP today.  You can find their contact details here. This is urgent: unless something is done quickly, it will be too late.

You, dear reader, need to take action if this country is to remain a "green and pleasant land".

1 comment:

Nicholas Car said...

If your council decided not to grow but instead concentrated on providing a better quality of life for the people already in your borough, you wouldn't have to worry at all about where new houses should be built at all.

There's an idea: better not bigger!