‘Immoral’ developers ‘targeting rural areas and refusing to build on brownfield land’

Developers are “gorging” on greenfield sites in rural areas to build despite a record amount of brownfield land being available for construction, a charity has said.


A report by the CPRE, an organisation that aims to protect the countryside, said there is enough brownfield land in England to accommodate 1.3 million homes.

Despite this, CPRE said “wasteful and immoral” developers are choosing to concrete over greensites because it is cheaper. Emma Bridgewater, the charity’s president, is calling for councils and planners to take a “brownfield first policy”.

“We need to direct councils and developers to use these sites – often in town and city centres where housing need is most acute – before any greenfield land can be released,” she said.

“It is wasteful and immoral to abandon our former industrial heartlands where factories and outdated housing have fallen into disrepair. Developing brownfield is a win-win solution that holds back the tide of new buildings on pristine countryside and aids urban regeneration at a stroke.”

In The State of Brownfield, CPRE’s latest study, the charity says there are enough derelict sites in London alone to build 350,000 houses.

Meanwhile in the north west there is enough brownfield land available for developers to build around 170,000 units.

The report highlighted two cases in Manchester which it said were examples of how development in inner cities is slow . It said the former Boddingtons Brewery site in the city has been awaiting development for 15 years.

Despite the increasing availability of brownfield land, planning permission permits for building on green sites are soaring, CPRE said

The proportion of brownfield housing units with planning permission is the lowest since records began – down to 44 per cent  in 2021 from 53 per cent in 2020 – and the actual number, at 506,000, is the lowest for four years.

Ms Bridgewater said she welcomed the recent “warm words” from the government to protect green sites but wants to see more action on a brownfield first policy.

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor for the West Midlands, said the priority for housing “has to be providing homes that are much needed” while protecting the “greenbelt for future generations.”

“That’s exactly what we’re doing here in the West Midlands,” he added. “The simple fact is there is no excuse to destroy the countryside while so much brownfield land is available for housing, which is why in our region we use the cash we’ve won from government to pay to clean up derelict industrial land.

“This is vital in the context of protecting our natural environment so it can help in the fight against climate change while levelling up our towns and cities so that they are thriving, attractive places to live and work – with nature on the doorstep to be explored and enjoyed.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson has previously pledged to encourage more housing in the north and Midlands to alleviate stress in the overheating market in London in the southeast.

Earlier this year, Mr Johnson was forced into a U-turn by his own MPs following a backlash controversial planning reforms unveiled in the Queen’s speech, which critics said would turn swathes of the south into an urban sprawl.

Downing Street later in the Budget announced a £1.8 billion fund to regenerate brownfield land for 160,000 homes, with Michael Gove, the new “levelling up” secretary responsible for housing has emphasised the need to build on brown sites.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We welcome the CPRE’s commitment to focus on brownfield, which is an absolute priority for the government.”