Local brownfield land registers: Update 16 June 2016

Section 151 requires councils to compile and maintain registers of types of sites to be prescribed in regulations. The government has signalled that the requirement will include registers of brownfield land suitable for housing development and self-build site registers.

Under the act, every council will be required to compile a register of local brownfield land suitable for housing development and to keep it up to date. The secretary of state will be able to prescribe criteria that sites must fulfil for entry on the register, although councils will also need to have regard to their own development plan as well as national policy and guidance. For example, he may stipulate that the land must be available already or in the near future for housing development, that it must not be affected by physical or environmental constraints that cannot be mitigated, and that it must be capable of supporting five dwellings or more.

A Department for Communities and Local Government technical consultation issued on 18 February suggested that, to be regarded as suitable for housing, sites should be available, capable of supporting five or more dwellings or more than 0.25ha - although councils would also be expected to seek suggestions for smaller sites form the public - and capable of development. Councils may have discretion to exclude certain sites from the register, such as land that already has permission for housing.

The consultation paper stated that the government expects "the large majority" of registered sites not covered extant planning permission to be secure consent via the planning permission in principle mechanism in section 150. Only in a small number of cases, it said, is it unlikely to be inappropriate for local registers to grant PPIP. Examples might be where there is a planning application or local development order in the pipeline, or where development raises environmental impact or habitats issues that would be more appropriately dealt with through a planning application.

The consultation paper stated that councils will need to adhere to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) regulations when compiling registers. It said sites may only be shown as suitable for PPIP if an EIA is not required, or where, after carrying out an EIA, measures are in place to address significant impacts. The consultation adds that it would be inappropriate for a site to be placed on the register if its development would be prohibited by the Habitats Directive. There is also potential for the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive to apply to brownfield registers, the consultation document notes.

According to the consultation document, registers would need to list site name and address, grid reference, site size, an estimate of the number of homes to support, planning status and ownership if known. The government will require local authorities to carry out "proportionate" consultation on their registers. The consultation paper said they should update their brownfield register at least once a year.

Progress against the government’s target that 90 per cent of suitable brownfield sites will have planning permission for housing by 2020 will be assessed annually from 2017, it adds. The consultation said councils failing to make "sufficient progress" against the brownfield objective would be unable to claim the existence of an up-to-date five year housing land supply when considering applications for brownfield development, so a presumption in favour of sustainable development would apply.

Commencement: Section 151 came into force on 12 May.

Comment: Concern surrounds the five-dwelling threshold the government has indicated it may use for the register. Planning Officers Society board chair Mike Kiely said this could require councils to assess more sites because those larger than 0.25 hectares will have to be considered. "In a heavily built-up area such as London, this will add a significant number of sites to the SHLAA process. For instance, at my previous authority, the London Borough of Croydon, we calculated that a threshold of five units would add about 165 sites to the 129 larger than 0.25 hectares and already identified in the SHLAA. Additional resources for this work are not envisaged, so it would drain those from other planning functions and likely result in boroughs being unable to maintain an up-to-date local plan." Alice Lester, programme manager at the Local Government Association's Planning Advisory Service (PAS), asked: "What level of work will be required on brownfield sites to get them on to the register? And will this work be over and above that carried out to do a site allocations plan, which tends to be quite high level and strategic?" Commentators also raised the question of whether a testing regime, such as an examination, would be put in place to confirm register entries.

The DCLG technical consultation document is here https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/501239/Planning_consultation.pdf

More on this topic:
Government picks 70 councils to pilot brownfield registers