#wasteofspace: help CPRE identify brownfield land suitable for housing

CPRE is running a big new campaign to identify brownfield sites that could be used for housing. We want to produce a map showing the thousands of empty sites and unused buildings going to waste across England.

The campaign, #WasteOfSpace, will run for six months, as we also conduct research to get to the bottom of the available figures for brownfield land. Our last report on the issue calculated that there was enough brownfield land for 1.5 million new homes. A report by Civitas earlier this year put the figure at 2.5 million. The Government seems to think there is much less suitable brownfield land out there, but it has not produced any figures.

We need to know the real scope for brownfield development, and we want the general public to identify sites that may have been overlooked in official plans.   

To take part, please nominate a brownfield site in your local area by tweeting or emailing photos, which will be added to an interactive online map. It might be a derelict industrial site, space above shops, or, as in my suburban street in south-east London, a gap between houses that been there since the war, presumably because no one knows who owns the land.

The importance of the campaign is twofold. First, of course, building in towns relieves pressure on the countryside. But second, it also helps the towns themselves, giving them life and vitality.

Not all brownfield sites are suitable for development. Some are full of wildlife or precious plant life.  And liveable cities need green space. Some derelict land might be better used for parks or gardens than for housing.

But even with these caveats, there is a huge of amount of urban land that is going to waste, while developers target green fields. This has to stop. The Government, despite its earlier scepticism about brownfield housing, now seems to agree, and it deserves credit for its change of heart. George Osborne and others have made welcome noises about the need to encourage brownfield development. Ever helpful, we want to show them just how much potential there is. The alternative is more towns and cities in decline, and more development sprawling into the countryside.

To nominate a brownfield site and add it to CPRE’s ‘#WasteOfSpace’ map of England, please send us a photo, ideally with a short description of the site and an address or postcode. You can send the image by:


Afterword: CPRE’s press release on the campaign launch includes a supportive comment from the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles: ‘I encourage people to get involved in this campaign and nominate brownfield land that can be unlocked in their area.’ http://bit.ly/1yUSYgB

13 Responses to “#wasteofspace: help CPRE identify brownfield land suitable for housing”

  1. 1 Steve's Right (@Steve_o_herts) July 22, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Surely the developers would rather build homes on cheap farm land to maximise their extensive profits? And we need brownfield sites for business use as well – stupid to identify every brown site so the developers can jump on the band wagon and claim it to their portfolio. Why not just control immigration so there is less demand-it’s simpler, cheaper and greener. Or are you Tories in disguise? Also get the chancellor to devalue undeveloped land so its not held as a fixed asset by land banks-then they will build to realise higher values. The green / brown site argument is a red herring.

  2. 2 Anthony Powell July 23, 2014 at 12:48 am

    What about listed buildings? These can be in a state of needing vastly expensive repair, to standards unrealistic in terms of energy efficiency etc. So they get left empty and unloved, falling into a greater state of decay. Until perhaps some homeless soul has a mishap with a fire…
    What constitutes a listed building should be down to community rather than committee, and the status should be reviewable – or certainly, what allowance for the needs of modern living, be considered.
    After all, the listed building, even conservation area, is not what it was 100 years ago: very few are without cars cluttering the streets, the sounds of hedge trimmers and lawn mowers, and that alien urban weed, Leylandii.

  3. 4 Patti mackie July 25, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Such a pity you don’t listen to anybody but yourselves, you don’t care about the wildlife and never have.!

    • 5 sspiers July 25, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      Patti, that’s some charge against someone you’ve never met! As a matter of fact I am a proud member of the London Wildlife Trust and CPRE is certainly not saying we should build on every bit of brownfield land regardless of its impact on wildlife or amenity.

      The blog you are commenting on specifically says: ‘Not all brownfield sites are suitable for development. Some are full of wildlife or precious plant life. And liveable cities need green space. Some derelict land might be better used for parks or gardens than for housing. But even with these caveats, there is a huge of amount of urban land that is going to waste, while developers target green fields.’

      As for not listening to anyone but ourselves, I debated the perceived conflict between using brownfield land and protecting nature in a previous blog, How to get more brownfield development: https://cpreviewpoint.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/how-to-get-more-brownfield-development/. I pointed out that CPRE has debated these issues long and hard with other organisations in Wildlife and Countryside Link, and come to a broad agreement.

      Environmentalists and conservationists are not in such a strong position that we can afford to pick battles with each other. CPRE’s campaign is asking people to identify sites or buildings that they think could be developed for housing. Of course not all the sites will be appropriate, but I bet many will be.

      Shaun Spiers

  4. 6 Anthony Powell July 27, 2014 at 2:31 am

    The other form of wildlife appreciative of brownfield are foragers. In spring, there’s ground elder and nettles, summer berries (I’ve just been gathering blackberries, Chinese bramble, and cherry plums), autumn is apples (from former orchards and interesting seedlings), pears, medlars, and nuts – chestnuts, hazels and almonds. Fresh, local, free food, just what is needed given the energy intensity and price of bought food. So when spotting brownfield sites for development, I’d urge you to check for forageable plants. And when developers do come on, do they have to rip the landscape apart, or can they develop into a mature landscape?

  5. 8 Robert Flunder March 9, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    My home town of Brentwood,Essex (needing 5500 homes in 2015-30) will have to allocate 3000 of these in the green belt because it only has suitable brownfield land available for 2500 homes. At Brentwood higher and higher percentages of homes will have to be built in the green belt with each successive new Local Plan, because new brownfield sites will become harder and harder to find.
    Within the UK, Brentwood is far from unique..
    CPRE are oversimplifying the issue with their claims that all future needed housing provision could be accommodated on brownfield – unless they are advocating that other (brownfield rich) boroughs take over the housing targets of Brentwood (and other brownfield poor) boroughs – is CPRE advocating this ??

    • 9 cprematt March 9, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      Robert, there are lots of issues here, which I will try to address succinctly.
      1. The NPPF is clear that it is OK for councils to plan to not meet their housing needs in full: Green Belt should only very exceptionally be released for housing, and meeting housing need is not, on its own, considered exceptional enough. But councils need to be very careful about demonstrating that they have considered a review of Green Belt against the criteria set in the NPPF. We would advocate that such Green Belt reviews take account of impacts on more than a single council area, however.
      2. Our recent report ‘From Wasted Spaces to Living Spaces’ undertaken with the University of the West of England shows that, in fact, there is a continuous churn of brownfield sites, with new ones coming forward all the time. It seems common sense that they will become harder to find, but experience shows that they are far from being exhausted and the identification of new brownfield sites is barely slowing down.
      3. CPRE don’t claim that all future housing need can be accommodated on brownfield sites. We recognise that greenfield development is inevitable, but that it is preferable to re-use wasted, derelict sites close to existing infrastructure and services, before permanently losing open land that contributes so much to the environment, to food production and general well-being. We would also prefer it if greenfield sites were selected on a rational basis, taking account of their character and benefits.
      4. It would be desirable if development pressures could be directed to areas with greater opportunities in terms of availability of brownfield sites in order to reduce pressure on greenfield land, but we recognise that this can be problematic. However, the areas with the highest availability of brownfield sites tend to be the areas with the highest demand for new housing, including London, the West Midlands and the North-West. Demand for new housing in these areas is so great that it doesn’t matter exactly where new homes are built, they will always sell: the claims of the development industry that brownfield sites are only found in locations in which people would not choose to live are not founded on any objective evidence.
      Matt Thomson

  6. 10 Robert Flunder March 9, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    Matt, you quote – ” The NPPF is clear that it is OK for councils to plan to not meet their housing needs in full:”

    This NPPF feature just doesn’t work – it depends on neighbouring boroughs picking up any ‘shortfall’ a Local Authority wishes to justify on ‘green belt/environmental grounds’ as Brentwood originally did.

    Originally, against an Objectively Assessed Needs figure of 5500 homes Brentwood Council, using this same NPPF feature proposed only 3500 homes.

    After consultations with neighbouring boroughs and with the Planning Inspectorate Brentwood gave in and have increased their provision to 5500 homes (with 54% to be built in the green belt).

    The fact that CPRE has quoted that nationally 180,000 homes are to be built in green belts would suggest that very few boroughs have had much success with this particular NPPF provision.

    Incidentally the euphemism ‘Green Belt reviews’ is just that – it means build in the green belts.

    • 11 cprematt March 10, 2015 at 10:03 am

      Hi Robert
      Strictly speaking, councils do not have to ensure that neighbouring councils pick up their shortfall – the ‘duty to cooperate’ only requires them to demonstrate that they have worked with their neighbours to try to agree a distribution of housing to meet identified need, not to actually do so. It is a duty to cooperate, not a duty to agree.
      It is true that councils have been failing in their responsibility to protect Green Belt (and other designations including AONBs, etc), which is why CLG issued a clarification to the policy on 6 October last year and then wrote to the Planning Inspectorate on 16 December.
      Nonetheless councils are still running scared of the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ – usually advised more by financial and legal advisers than by planners. This is why CPRE and its members need to shout the message from the rooftops at every opportunity.
      Government wants us to protect the Green Belt. The caveat is that we need to be sure that the particular bits of Green Belt we are protecting are serving their intended purpose. Undertaking a review of Green Belt (which means literally a review, not necessarily a change) as part of local plan processes is as necessary to strengthen its protection as it is to change it.
      We can carry on this conversation offline if you like – I know you have my contact details!

  1. 1 #wasteofspace, CPRE survey of brownfield sites across the UK | Susie Bond Trackback on July 22, 2014 at 7:43 am
  2. 2 Campaign to Protect Rural England asks public to be “helpful” to the Government! | The Heritage Journal Trackback on July 23, 2014 at 6:45 am

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