Because planning is a devolved matter, this briefing only describes the situation in England.

Brownfield development

The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) provides a framework against which local plans are drawn up and planning applications are decided. It defines brownfield land as “land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure”.

The NPPF states that planning policies and decisions should promote the “effective use of land”, making “as much use as possible of previously developed or ‘brownfield’ land”. It goes on to instruct local planning authorities to give “substantial weight to the value of using suitable brownfield land … and support appropriate opportunities to remediate despoiled, degraded, derelict, contaminated or unstable land”.

Under the Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017, local planning authorities are required to compile and maintain a register of brownfield sites that are available locally, suitable for residential development, and at least 0.25 hectares. The register should contain information such as coordinates, physical size and ownership.

Under the Brownfield Land Release Fund, the Government currently provides funding to local councils to support the release of brownfield land for housing.

Can brownfield development meet housing need?

CPRE (formerly the Campaign to Protect Rural England) has argued there is sufficient brownfield land to meet England’s housing needs, noting that “there is space for at least one million homes on suitable brownfield land”.

The planning consultancy Lichfields has argued that brownfield land “can only be a part of the solution to the housing crisis”. It noted that suitable brownfield land is often not available in places where there is more need for new homes.

Some commentators have also highlighted potential barriers to brownfield development. These include demolition and remediation costs, difficult ground conditions, contaminated land and financing issues.

Protecting the Green Belt

The Commons Library briefing Green Belt, February 2023, sets out current Green Belt planning policy and some of the recent concern and controversy about the Green Belt. It covers the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill 2022-23 and the recently published consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework.

Government policy on protection for the Green Belt is set out in chapter 13 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF sets out that local authorities should change Green Belt boundaries only in “exceptional circumstances”. It also states that inappropriate development is harmful to the Green Belt and should be approved only in “very special circumstances”.

How well is the Green Belt working?

The question of whether the Green Belt is working well, which is often tied up with questions of how to meet housing needs, can prove contentious. Some commentators argue that inappropriate development can encroach on the Green Belt, while others argue that Green Belt protections get in the way of building sufficient housing.

CPRE has argued that “we need to focus on restoring and enhancing the Green Belt”. The organisation‘s position is that building on the Green Belt could “not solve the crisis in affordable housing”.

Think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs have argued that the release of (at least some) Green Belt land could help “solve the housing crisis”. The Centre for Cities has suggested releasing Green Belt land near train stations that serve major cities for development.

Recent proposals for planning reforms

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill 2022-23, which has completed its stages in the House of Commons and is currently awaiting committee stage in the House of Lords, would make a number of changes to the planning system. Among other things, it would:

  • introduce National Development Management Policies (NDMPs). These would sit alongside local plans in decision-making on planning applications. Any conflict between a local plan and an NDMP would have to be resolved in favour of the NDMP.
  • introduce a new Infrastructure Levy (IL) to replace the current system of developer contributions. IL rates would be locally set, and different rates could be charged within an area. IL receipts would go towards funding the local infrastructure – affordable housing, schools, GP surgeries, and roads – that development creates the need for.

The Government has said Green Belt protection might be one of the issues covered by NDMPs. The Government has also emphasised that in setting different IL rates for their areas, local authorities would be able to set “lower rates on brownfield over greenfield” to encourage brownfield development.

A Commons Library briefing provides further information on the clauses in the Bill. A Lords Library briefing provides information on the clauses that were added to the Bill during its passage through the House of Commons.

Alongside the Bill, the Government said it would make further changes to national planning policy, including the NPPF. The Government published a consultation on the proposed changes on 22 December 2022. In this the Government proposed amending the NPPF to make clear that local planning authorities “are not required to review and alter Green Belt boundaries if this would be the only way of meeting [housing] need in full”.

Parliamentary questions and written statements

When asked about the Green Belt and brownfield development in October 2022, the Prime Minister reaffirmed that the Government’s commitment to protecting “our green belt and … adopting a “brownfield first” strategy”.

The Secretary of Secretary for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove reiterated the Government’s “brownfield first pledge” in December 2022. He said national policy gives “substantial weight to the value of using brownfield land”.

Further reading

The following list of briefing papers prepared by the Commons Library, together with Select Committee reports and Government responses, provide further information on brownfield development and Green Belt protection.

Housing need and supply

Tackling the under-supply of housing in England, February 2022

Calculating housing need in the planning system (England), August 2021

Stimulating housing supply – Government initiatives (England), February 2021

Select Committee reports and Government responses

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, Letter to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, 24 August 2022

Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, The future of the planning system in England, First Report of Session 2021-22, June 2021

Government Response to the Committee Report on: The future of the planning system in England, May 2022

Lords Built Environment Committee, Meeting housing demand, First Report of Session 2021-22, January 2022

Government Response to the Lords Committee Report on: Meeting housing demand, March 2022

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