#WasteOfSpace: the picture so far

Stonebridge Park

Stonebridge Park

CPRE has had a great response to our #WasteOfSpace campaign. In just three weeks we have received more than 100 nominations of potential brownfield sites, as well as support from public figures and politicians. The online map showing the submissions has had close to 3,000 views so far.The campaign is far from over, but its early success shows how much safeguarding our countryside and improving our towns matters to people.

The entries we have received show that there are plenty of empty and derelict buildings across England. Our map includes pictures of large eyesores standing empty a few miles from a few miles from attractive countryside earmarked for development. This makes no sense.

The former Unisys offices at Stonebridge Park (pictured) is an example of how prime development space is being wasted. Just off London’s North Circular road, the multi-storey two tower building has been empty for some 18 years, an incredible length of time considering it is just two miles away from Wembley Stadium.

We know that when sites like this are used, cities benefit. London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow – all have become much more vibrant over the last twenty or thirty years, partly through using wasted space. On Glasgow, see Allan Little’s recent BBC article on Glasgow and the revitalisation of a 20-acre former factory site that had laid derelict for more than 40 years. There are countless other examples.

Of course, it is not always easy to bring vacant buildings or land back into use. One problem is contamination. Another is ownership: it is not always clear who owns sites or why they remain vacant. CPRE will be doing more work in the coming months on how to unlock brownfield land so that it can be developed. But it is absolutely clear that there is a good deal of land going to waste that could provide much needed new housing – and that for all its very welcome recent support for brownfield development, the Government is massively under-estimating the scale of opportunity.

Our campaign has attracted some critics. One criticism is that it is too black and white (a welcome change from complaints that we are too ‘nuanced’). But we are not saying that every site identified is necessarily suitable for development.

In particular, we know that some brownfield sites are valuable for nature or amenity. I made this point in my blog launching the campaign. Responding to comments on another blog back in May, I noted the support of Wildlife and Countryside Link (including the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and Buglife, as well as CPRE) for a sequential brownfield-first approach to development, but also Link’s statement that in a ‘small but significant number’ of cases brownfield land ‘incorporates areas of habitat of great importance for biodiversity’ and should not be developed.

Like most CPRE members of staff and high proportion of our members, I live in a city. I do not want to see towns and cities crammed full of development at the expense of wildlife or green spaces. Our campaign is not about town cramming, it is about improving towns while protecting the countryside. As for the argument from some on Twitter that too much farmland is ‘sterilised’ and inaccessible, that is true, but it does not follow that we should simply build on it. Surely we can stop wasting space in towns and cities, where most people want to live and work, while also improving the state of our farmland and encouraging more people to visit and enjoy the countryside.

I hope people will continue to support the campaign. The response to it has been overwhelmingly positive, including from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, suggesting that this is a UK-wide issue.

Please continue to nominate brownfield sites and add them 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:
• emailing wasteofspace@cpre.org.uk
• tweeting @CPRE with the campaign hashtag #WasteOfSpace
• posting to the #WasteOfSpace Facebook group

3 Responses to “#WasteOfSpace: the picture so far”

  1. 1 Jane Cartney August 24, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    This is a fantastic campaign which I do hope will gather momentum.

    One thing you have not mentioned, is the use of compulsory purchase orders. Do they still exist? In the 1970s and 80s many derelict properties were brought back into housing use by the application of CPOs.

    I am aware that of course the financial climate in the public sector is very different today, but I am sure that with positive will and a commitment to improvement, government and local authorities could develop some local authority/housing association projects, and partnerships with the private sector to develop many brownfield sites both for housing, small business and amenity use.

    In Islington in the 70s it was common for the local authority not only to provide housing units from derelict sites, many acquired by compulsory purchase, but also to create a number of small parks, temporary open spaces, in sites not suitable for housing. These were relatively low cost financially, but of enormous benefit in improving the locale and well-being of the local community.

    It really is time that the Department for Communities and
    Local Government together with our local authorities worked together to develop a more intelligent approach and got to grips with this opportunity for improving both our towns and countryside.

  2. 2 Jane Cartney August 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    This very positive project, finally bringing some of Liverpool’s derelict properties back into use in Liverpool, could also be applied to some brownfield sites where an existing derelict building lends itself to conversion to housing and/or small business, and amenity use:


    Many larger brownfield sites would be ideal for creating new mixed residential communities, with business opportunities, open space and all amenities.

    We appear to have lost our collective vision for such schemes, by relying too heavily on the profit-driven private sector developments of the past 30 years.

    There is much in this study of positive regeneration in the Netherlands which could so easily be adapted for use here, and applied to our brownfield sites:


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