Home front - The government must take a less dogmatic attitude to greenfield development

The Office of National Statistics’s land use change figures state that 73% of dwellings in England built in 2005 were on previously developed land, a 17% increase on 1997. But whereas 95% of new dwellings in London were on brownfield sites, the East Midlands lagged behind on 57%, prompting accusations of “lack of progress in some areas”.

This fails to understand why there is a lack of brownfield development in the East Midlands. Many of the most spectacular statistics for brownfield development are in areas where there is a decaying industrial heritage. In Sheffield, renowned for its steelmaking, 91% of development was on brownfield sites.

Unfortunately, the East Midlands does not, in the main, have this kind of heritage as the region is dominated by rural towns and villages. Areas such as High Peak in Derbyshire and Boston in Lincolnshire recorded a 10% drop in brownfield development because of a lack of supply.

The laws of supply and demand dictate that too little available land results in too little development and rising house prices. Prices in the East Midlands have increased about 50% in the past five years and areas such as the Peak District are now wealthy enclaves where young people and lower-paid workers have no chance of buying property.

These figures do not demonstrate any “lack of progress” but rather that the government’s “centrist” approach to planning, essentially “brownfield only, greenfield never” is not working. We require a more pragmatic regional approach that acknowledges that some areas do not have enough brownfield.

The solution is a measured release of greenfield sites on urban fringes and areas of housing shortage, taking into account the quality of the land. In the East Midlands, much greenfield is farmland with little natural beauty. A measured release of some of this land would benefit many local communities.

I am not suggesting that we pave over huge tracts of greenfield. Our own record on brownfield development in places such as Warrington, on the site of the old Burtonwood Airbase, shows that we will build on brownfield. But selected development on greenfield is better than condemning areas such as High Peak and Boston to the slow death of exorbitant house prices and ageing populations.