The government has used the planning system to force developers to put most of their residential developments on brownfield land. And it did to for excellent reasons. Unfortunately, the consequences have been dire.
You can see why the government thought it was a great idea to preserve precious green fields and revive derelict industrial sites by shifting the emphasis of development from greenfield to brown. It appeared to be a sound environmental move, and on that basis it could be considered a success. As the chart above from FPDSavills shows, housebuilders' greenfield supply has plummeted since 1997 when planning authorities began implementing the government's policy that 60% of development should be on brownfield land.

But, as Kate Barker said at the launch of her long-awaited review of housing supply, the brownfield shift has had a key disadvantage: "In the short term, it has restricted supply."

Barker's recommendations to improve supply include a range of measures to streamline the planning the process and specific actions to make brownfield development a more attractive and financially viable option for housebuilders. The review suggests the introduction of derelict land tax credits, a government community infrastructure fund to pump-prime infrastructure provision, and a reduced level of development land tax – or "planning gain supplement" Barker prefers to call it – for brownfield sites.

The release of more greenfield land for development is not a solution that Barker is prepared to countenance. "I think it is feasible to maintain the brownfield target," she said. Others believe that greenfield land release is the only solution to the supply problem. "There's no question there's going to have to be substantial release of greenfield land in the South," says industry consultant Roger Humber. "The issue is what sort of green."

Barker stresses that her review does not present a quick fix. In the meantime, the industry will go on facing planning delays and difficulty in making government policy work. Over the next six pages Homes tours the country to look at the supply and delivery issues, and finds out what buyers think of the brownfield shift.

Where has all the land gone?