The creation of Brownfield Land Registers is part of the government’s drive for new homes - but is it working fast enough?

With the creation of the new ‘Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’ as part of the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the government has pinned its colours to the mast regarding its intention to fix the broken housing market. The creation of Brownfield Land Registers is part of this drive for new homes.

It is therefore timely that the 31 December 2017 deadline for local authorities to publish their first Brownfield Registers also marked the passing of two and a half years since the government published its ‘Fixing the Foundations’ Productivity Plan. The plan set out the government’s commitment to “an urban planning revolution on brownfield sites” and to “legislating to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites… subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details.” The theory was that Brownfield Registers, in addition to Permission in Principle, would be the legislative silver bullet to unlocking housing delivery on brownfield sites by reducing unnecessary delay and uncertainty.

The Secretary of State must surely be disappointed by the absence of Part 2 of the Registers across England

Interestingly, the Secretary of State for the Department for Business and Innovation of the time, who co-signed the Productivity Plan, was Sajid Javid – now Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Mr Javid is therefore the man responsible for delivering on the government’s pledges.

The purpose of Brownfield Registers is to ensure that 90 per cent of suitable brownfield sites across England have planning permission for housing by 2020. This would help deliver on the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto commitment of one million new homes by 2020 and on the more recent 2017 promise of building half a million more homes by 2022. With two years until 2020, it appears that Mr Javid has his work cut out to ensure 90 per cent of suitable brownfield land has planning permission and one million new homes have been delivered.

Whilst the vast majority of local councils appear to have published their Brownfield Registers, the Secretary of State must surely be disappointed by the absence of Part 2 of the Registers across England. The second part of the Registers detail which brownfield sites have been given the all-important Permission in Principle planning status. It is precisely this status which is so vital to reducing delay, uncertainty, and most importantly in delivering much-needed housing on brownfield sites. 

A great number of council websites currently highlight that there is no requirement to place sites on Part 2 of the Registers and as such, they do not intend to do so. If this remains the case, the entire exercise of Brownfield Land Registers might prove somewhat anticlimactic given how Part 1 of the Registers constitute nothing more than a consolidated schedule of brownfield sites that already have planning permission – information which is already published in councils’ Authority Monitoring Report housing trajectories.

The first round of Brownfield Registers will therefore likely do little to boost housing delivery. The hope is that over the course of the next 12 months, councils that are already stretched for resources will somehow find the time to properly assess brownfield sites and complete Part 2 of Register, providing sites with key Permission in Principle status. The worry, however, will be that as time passes Part 2 of the Registers will be silently kicked into the long grass.