If the government insists on building the bulk of 200,000 new homes on brownfield sites it must learn from the mistakes made at Allerton Bywater.
Housebuilders should be salivating at the prospect of building 200,000 new homes John Prescott says will be required in the South East by 2016. In the sustainable communities plan launched last week Prescott made it clear that he would be relying on housebuilders to help solve the country's housing shortage. That must be great news for developers, mustn't it?

The problem for housebuilders is that they will have to do it John's way. Prescott is insisting that developers build sustainable high-density dwellings on brownfield sites rather than executive estates in the leafy countryside. What this could mean for the developer can be seen at the government's blueprint millennium villages such as Allerton Bywater in West Yorkshire, where partnerships with developers already occur. These projects highlight some of the pitfalls of developing brownfield sites to the government's sustainable specifications.

Work on the brownfield site at Allerton Bywater has been dogged by delays. Construction on the 520 homes is now due to start in September, but the projected should have been completed last April.

Problems started in 1999 when a residents group opposed the development of the new village. The developer consortium Aire Regeneration, consisting of MJ Gleeson and Miller Homes, was accused of not explaining the benefits of the scheme to the residents. Some in the community were not ready for the innovative features planned for the site, and as a result many of the modern features were toned down and the homes made more traditional in appearance.

The community also insisted on the redevelopment of a miners' welfare centre and the conversion of an old school. The developers refused to foot the bill and it was left to English Partnerships to pick up the tab leading to yet more delay.

Allerton Bywater also illustrates the inherent risks of developing polluted brownfield sites. In the summer of 2001 the project was delayed by three months when an extra survey was required to confirm the whereabouts of mineshafts. Without it the National House Building Council would not have issued warranties for the scheme. Then last May the project was put back by another year when the HSE ordered that a nearby chemical plant be decontaminated before building on the site commenced.

Even after all the delays the deal between the developer and EP has still not been finalised. Building this week revealed that MJ Gleeson and Miller Homes will now only build the first phase of 150 homes with EP building the infrastructure. The remaining units would then go out to competitive tender. EP is hoping that by taking control of the site servicing work such as roads and drains it will allow Aire to concentrate on developing the homes from late 2003.

It will be hoped that the lessons learnt by the government at Allerton Bywater will inform how sustainable communities are planned in the future. The government must make sure that local communities are offered suitable homes: if it foists innovative housing on traditional communities then developers will be in danger of being left with unsold homes.

Danger number two is if developers are subjected to the kind of delays found at Allerton Bywater. If projects are consistently held up housebuilders will be demanding higher returns to cover the costs associated with delay. If this happens there will be less money in the pot to build Prescott's 200,000 homes.