In the thick of it

Twice in the last month the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has dismissed thorough (and expensive) CPRE research, without any serious engagement with it.

On brownfield development, the Government has a good record, particularly compared with the Coalition government, which dumped the emphasis on brownfield housing first introduced by John Gummer in 1990. Brownfield land registers are part of the Housing and Planning Bill now going through Parliament, and we are promised a £1 billion fund for brownfield remediation.

CPRE does not take a crude ‘all brownfield good, all greenfield bad’ approach to planning, but we are pleased with the new emphasis and the fact that Ministers’ took note of our campaigns and reports  Indeed, Brandon Lewis, the Housing and Planning Minister, has often quoted CPRE’s statement that there is enough suitable brownfield land in England to build at least a million new homes.

That figure comes from detailed research conducted for us by the University of the West of England (UWE). From Wasted Space to Living Spaces was commissioned partly because the last planning minister, Nick Boles, dismissed our earlier research on brownfield availability, Building in a Small Island. Based on government figures, this calculated that there was enough brownfield land for 1.5 million homes.

The UWE research adopted a different, more conservative methodology, and no one has seriously questioned the figures or the methodology – or not until the Impact Assessment for the Housing and Planning Bill. This has the following statement (para. 6.57): ‘The absence of robust data has led to assertions by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (sic) and others that brownfield land has the capacity to accommodate over 1 million homes. We consider this to be wildly over optimistic as only a fraction will be suitable for housing. (This land, for example, may not be suitable or available for development, may be located in the wrong place, or subject to physical and/or environmental constraints).’

In response I wrote to Brandon Lewis, and also to the Times. The Government’s focus on brownfield development will do little good if it massively underestimates the amount of land available. UWE’s research was extremely thorough – please read the report and appendices if you doubt it. By contrast, the Government admits it has no robust evidence of its own to guide policy – largely because the Coalition stopped analysing and publishing aggregate data. If the Government thinks we have our facts wrong, it should say why.

And it should certainly not buy the line that the only land viable for development is that which developers say is viable. For an analysis of how the murky business of assessing viability contributes to the housing shortage, see Getting Houses Built by CPRE’s Luke Burroughs. ‘Leave it to the house builders’ is a recipe for low supply, much of it on greenfield sites.

Dissing CPRE’s research risks becoming a habit in DCLG. Last week CPRE published Set up to Fail, an analysis of how inflated housing targets lead to unnecessary loss of countryside without increasing house building. I wrote about the summary report in my last blog, and there was a very good summary in the Times. Our short report was linked to a very substantial study by two consultancies, Housing Vision and Tibbalds, and since publication we have been inundated with further examples of councils forced to release greenfield sites to meet their housing targets.

I do not expect the Government to accept every part of CPRE’s analysis, but it should not simply dismiss the evidence that high housing targets are leading to the release of greenfield sites that would otherwise be considered unsuitable for housing. So it was disappointing to read the response from a DCLG spokesperson in the Daily Telegraph: ‘These claims are completely untrue. We have abolished top-down targets and our planning reforms mean local people decide where housing should and shouldn’t go.’

La, la, la, la, la. Can anyone who knows anything about what is happening to planning in England really believe this tosh? I very much doubt it. CLG has many intelligent, expert officials and ministers. They must know what is happening on the ground. They should rein in their spin doctors, who risk bringing the department into disrepute.

 

 

 

 

 

4 Responses to “In the thick of it”


  1. 1 Andrew Needham November 27, 2015 at 10:24 am

    DCLG said ‘The absence of robust data has led to assertions by CPRE and others that brownfield land has the capacity to accommodate over 1 million homes. We consider this to be wildly over optimistic as only a fraction will be suitable for housing. (This land, for example, may not be suitable or available for development, may be located in the wrong place, or subject to physical and/or environmental constraints).’

    The way forward is to analyse the UWE data on a local level. Here in Cheshire West we have broken down the data into six areas:

    1. Chester including Backford 142ha – 27 sites and reported potential for 760 dwellings:
    2.Ellesmere Port including Neston and Hooton 981 ha – 110 sites and reported potential 4043 dwellings
    3.Frodsham including Helsby and Sutton Weaver 231 ha – 10 sites and reported potential 189 dwellings
    4.Northwich 369ha – 58 sites and reported potential for 3949 dwellings
    5.Winsford and Moulton 22ha – 20 sites and reported potential for 323 dwellings
    6.Rural and Misc 92ha – 15 sites and reported potential for 1273 dwellings

    We propose to analyse the reasons why these are not coming forward

  2. 2 Steve Bridger (@stevebridger) November 27, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    I was also astonished by the “DCLG spokesperson” quoted in Telegraph piece.

    Two words: North Somerset

  3. 3 Edward Cook December 10, 2015 at 7:11 am

    Shaun spot on ,they are not listening or if they are they haven’t got the gumption to interpret what CPRE are saying .
    Time theses desk bound Londoners got out into the real world.
    Time we had a decent opposition to reign them in.

  4. 4 Peter Cleasby December 10, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Ever since the start of the coalition government, DCLG has been the worst offender at issuing bland, politiclsed statements which insult the electorate’s intelligence. Civil services press officers started mouthing drivel which in my day would have been drafted by a special adviser, put in inverted commas and ascribed to a minister. The fact that this drivel is self-evidently untrue makes it worse. Time for the Select Committee on Public Administration to have a look at the issue.


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