Minister plans to increase pressure on housebuilders to use urban brownfield areas.
Housebuilders are bracing themselves for new restrictions on greenfield sites.

Planning minister Richard Caborn says the government is likely to extend curbs currently applied to out-of-town retail sites to the housebuilding sector.

He is likely to insist that housebuilders satisfy a "sequential" test, requiring them to demonstrate that no suitable brownfield land is available before they become eligible to build on greenfield sites.

The government's plans, to be implemented in the form of a new planning policy guidance note, would give local authorities wide powers to discourage developers from building on greenfield sites.

Caborn told the Local Government Association, where he made the announcement last week: "I don't not want to say very much [about the guidance] today, but I can say that we are looking at introducing a new sequential approach for housing." Housebuilders vehemently oppose any move to crack down on greenfield development.

A House Builders' Federation spokesman said: "It will slow things down completely at a time when we are undershooting our building targets anyway. At a time when interest rates are tumbling and demand for houses is growing, it will create enormous inflationary pressures. The end result is that houses will become much more expensive." The problem, the federation argues, is that the government wrongly assumes that inner-city brownfield sites are readily available for redevelopment.

A federation spokesman said: "You simply cannot apply the same rules to housing as you do to supermarket developments. The government doesn't understand that they are two separate markets." But the idea brought a warmer response from environmentalists.

You simply cannot apply the same rules to housing as you do to supermarkets

House Builders’ federation

Activist Ali Brown, who is part of the Urgent network that opposes greenfield housing developments, said developers need to be policed.

He said: "All credit to Caborn for the idea. The problem is that there are lots of ways of proving that brownfield sites aren't suitable.

That is why there is still so much development of greenfield sites going on." Brown said a root-and-branch reform of the planning system was needed to ensure developers could not get around the rules.

He said the simplest way to discourage development would be to impose 17.5% VAT on greenfield developments and make brownfield sites exempt.

The new guidance policy will be backed up by the publication after Easter of the government's new national register of brownfield sites.