A pledge in Osborne's joint spending review and autumn statement commits the government to accelerate housing delivery by allowing brownfield sites in the green belt to be redeveloped "in the same way as other brownfield land", provided that discounted Starter Homes are included. The proposal has been interpreted as signalling a new approach to housing development in the green belt, prompting queries about the rider "subject to local consultation".
The Conservatives' election manifesto pledged to give local people "more control over planning" and to protect the green belt, but also proposed a duty for authorities to create a register of brownfield land and ensure that 90 per cent of suitable sites have permission for housing by 2020.
Experts said the reference and its link to the government's target of delivering 200,000 new Starter Homes for sale to the under-40s at a 20 per cent discount on market rates would clearly prompt a fresh round of consideration for some sites in the green belt, which could mean redrafting planning policy guidance. The National Planning Policy Framework currently permits the redevelopment of brownfield sites in the green belt, provided that new buildings do not have a greater impact on its openness than those they replace.
Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at lobby group the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said that while seven per cent of the nation's green belt is classified as previously developed, this figure includes landscaped environments and gardens. He said disused research facilities, hospitals and former airfields are likely to figure among the kind of sites considered suitable for redevelopment. "It would be important that consultation for these kinds of sites should go through a neighbourhood plan or an area action plan," he said.
Mike Best, executive director at consultancy Turley, said the spending review's wording contains nothing about sites' sustainability or suitability for housing. "The one requirement seems to be that they include an element of Starter Homes," he said. "This will bring a number of sites into play that have not previously been considered."
Kevin Gibbs, partner at law firm Bond Dickinson, said housing need assessments for Starter Homes could open the door for "special circumstances" claims to permit development that might fail sustainability tests. "Consultation could come via parish councils or neighbourhood planning forums," he added. "But there's nothing to stop sites coming forward through the local plan process."
The Department for Communities and Local Government declined to elaborate on the spending review announcements regarding the redevelopment of brownfield sites in the green belt. A spokesman said a consultation on these sites would be launched "soon".