Special measures for Councils that fail to plan for brownfield homes?

5 February 2015, Blog

A consultation document published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) – discussed today in the House of Lords – seeks to further extend the special measures to include councils who fail to plan development on their brownfield land.

At the crux of the matter is the Government’s commitment to increasing the amount of housing in England and the desire to take pressure away from the greenbelt. In light of this, the document sets out incentives for councils to deliver more development on brownfield land. According to the consultation, councils who fail to produce a Local Development Order (LDO) should be placed into special measures for brownfield-specific applications, or alternatively to be considered as lacking a five year land supply for housing.

The so-called “special measures” are far from special from a council’s point of view. The mechanism would allow developers to submit their applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate, removing the local authority from the decision making process.

If the plans in the consultation document go ahead, DCLG expects to see councils implementing LDOs for 50% of its brownfield sites by 2017 and a staggering 90% of all brownfield land by 2020.

It also offers its own definition of brownfield land: land which is suitable for new housing if it is deliverable, free of constraint, capable of development and capable of supporting five or more dwellings.

If adopted, these proposals could be good news for owners of brownfield land as it gives local authorities incentives to work with them to agree a new and beneficial use for the land. On the other hand, developers looking to sit on their “brownfield land egg” until it hatches with a higher value could find themselves being pressured into earlier decision-making.

The House of Lords debate today raised the key issue of brownfield land being more expensive to develop – something which the consultation from DCLG fails to recognise. Developers can often find it more difficult to realise a profit from brownfield land development due to the clean-up costs involved. If development is to go ahead, it will require cooperation between council and developer to make plans viable.

With the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) coming into place for all local authorities in April, there are now fewer ‘cost levers’ for councils to pull. For example reducing affordable housing levels within a development is likely to be one of the only ways for developers to increase profitability, while the lack of affordable housing is going to be a focal issue during the General Election. It remains to be seen whether the proposals will give incentives to developers themselves rather than just councils. But it is clear that both parties will need to work together – and have a reason to do so – if brownfield LDOs are going to work.

 

Alex Watson is an Account Executive in JBP’s Bristol office. 

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