Philip Barnes – Blog

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Everyone agrees we need to increase housing output on brownfield sites.  However the definition of previously developed land (PDL) aimed at achieving this has been largely unchanged since the first consultation draft on PPG3 back in the late 90s. The only substantive amendment has been to weaken the policy as it relates to large gardens in order to avoid garden grabbing.

The time has perhaps now come to amend the current definition of PDL in order to drive more output from brownfield sources. With 20 years of policy encouraging brownfield sites the ‘easier’ sites have gone. In many areas only the unviable, multi-ownership, technically complex sites in the weaker market locations are left. Housing under supply has grown and its disastrous consequences means that we should now explore new sources of brownfield supply.

The first port of call should be those sites which the public view as brownfield but policy does not. Namely the vacant or underused garden centres, glasshouses and golf courses which are clearly capable of accommodating new homes. With homelessness rising and  a million too few new homes since 2000 the planning system no longer has the luxury of regarding such sites as greenfield and unsuitable for redevelopment.

For garden centres the economic and planning opportunity is obvious. As the large DIY stores and supermarkets have entered the market for plants and garden equipment the country has been left with countless vacant or financially unsustainable garden centres and nurseries. Most look the same – large ugly aging structures accommodating a mix of growing and retail operations. And mostly located close to our urban areas and making no contribution to the openness of the Green Belt.

But unfortunately garden centres are classified as a horticultural operation and therefore as greenfield. Whilst case-law has established that those which are predominantly retail operations (with ancillary growing) can be regarded as brownfield the simple reality is that the planning position is at best complex and acts as a disincentive for developers. Indeed some local plans actually seek to protect such uses from redevelopment in some forlorn hope that such an allocation will somehow stem the economic tide.

If the NPPG brownfield land definition could be brought updated to make clear that such uses can be regarded as brownfield this would open up the prospect of a range of ugly densely developed sites coming forward for much-needed well designed homes and open spaces.

Similarly global warming and reduced shipping costs has dramatically affected the UK glasshouse industry. Many are now vacant or financially unsustainable. Whilst some are in remote locations unsuitable for new homes, many are located close to urban areas and offering opportunities for environmental enhancement through redevelopment.

Another sector suffering from structural economic decline is golf. As evidenced by a 20% decline in golf club membership between 2004-13 in England.

Again most are located close to our urban areas where the housing needs are greatest. They are usually ecological deserts with little or no public access. Many are slowly dying due to lack of investment and falling membership rolls. Perhaps the planning system should be working positively with Sport England and the golf industry bodies to define policies which ensure a positive future for redundant or unviable golf courses. Perhaps new country parks, new facilities for other sports, or garden villages. Or all three.

If the local planners and the golf course owners feel the course could have a viable future with new investment then maybe a small housing development on the brownfield part of the course could help provide that investment. We planners need to be proactive and positive in addressing the needs of the next generation of golfers and homeowners and renters.

Three huge potential sources of future housing supply. All housebuilders need is some positive, consistent national and local planning policy. If we get that we will aim to do the rest.