Policy Briefing: What do brownfield registers mean for planners?

The government's new brownfield registers may have an impact on already stretched council resources, says James Waterhouse.

Brownfield: duty to create registers now in effect
Brownfield: duty to create registers now in effect

Q What key requirements do the new brownfield registers place on local planning authorities?

A Two statutory instruments that came into force in mid-April require authorities to publish a brownfield land register by 31 December 2017. They must also regularly update it, at least annually. The register comprises two parts.

Part one is a list of previously-developed land sites considered to be suitable for development and deliverable within a 15-year timeframe. Sites must be at least 0.25 hectares or capable of supporting five homes or more. This requires authorities to reach a decision on the deliverability of each site.
Part two comprises a list of brownfield sites that have been granted permission in principle (PIP), a new form of upfront consent with a number of procedural requirements. This includes the authority, when granting a site PIP, defining the minimum and maximum number of homes it can take. This enables a future technical details consent to be secured. We expect applying for PIP to be akin to a reserved matters application.

Planning Practice Guidance setting out more details on the process is set for publication this summer.

Q Why has the government introduced these measures?

A The register is intended to encourage authorities to exhaust brownfield land capacity and to speed up development by circumventing the existing development plan and development management procedures. It also provides developers, the government and residents with greater transparency on the extent of brownfield land potential and constraints in a given area.

Q What implications do these measures present to local planning authorities?

A The list of brownfield sites can be prepared without much of an additional burden, as it builds on existing practices, particularly the preparation of strategic housing land availability assessments (SHLAAs).

However, the PIP process is likely to have additional resource implications, with procedural costs that could eat into stretched budgets. Authorities will need to consider the dwelling capacity for each site and would ideally commit additional staff resources to discussing PIP with developers to highlight potential risks.

The number of sites granted PIP will be at an authority’s discretion. There is no statutory requirement to grant PIP to a specific number of sites, so it is possible that registers could comprise a lengthy part one list and a sparse part two, particularly for those authorities with limited resources or those unwilling to proactively plan for growth.

Q What impacts could brownfield registers have on developers and landowners?

A There are genuine opportunities for developers and landowners. PIP is akin to securing a five-year outline planning permission, but without the financial burden and drawn-out timescales of a typical planning application.

The major risk for developers is a scheme falling outside the site’s PIP housing range as defined by the authority. In this scenario, the developer would need to pursue a conventional planning application and objectors would be able to cite the PIP range as evidence of a site being under- or over-developed.

Q How effective do you think the registers will be in helping to deliver more housing?

A The litmus test will be the effect on an area’s housing delivery rate and its brownfield-greenfield ratio. However, both of these measures are affected by other factors, most notably the strength of the local housing market. Accordingly, feedback from authorities and developers should provide the government with a greater idea of the popularity and success of the new process.

The register could have significant implications for London, as the Greater London Authority’s city-wide SHLAA has always been confidential. For the first time, the register will disclose those employment locations identified for new housing, enabling housebuilders to target industrial sites to a greater extent. This could increase the pace of industrial land loss.

James Waterhouse is a director at consultancy Iceni Projects

NOTE: this story was updated on Wednesday 17 May to clarify the fact that eligible stes must be either at least 0.25 hectares in size or capable of supporting five homes or more. They do not need to meet both criteria.

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