“Brownfield First” report calls for greenfield surcharge

A major new report by the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) is calling for a new greenfield surcharge in a bid to encourage future brownfield development.

“Brownfield First” proposals suggest that a greenfield surcharge would be used by local authorities for infrastructure spending to help mitigate the higher costs associated with brownfield developments, therefore encouraging developers to make more use of brownfield sites.

The report reveals that the proportion of brownfield developments has dropped significantly since 2014 when 40% of new residential projects in England was on land that had already been developed. In 2018 just 20% of projects used brownfield sites due to technical complexities and additional costs and uncertainties which deterred developers from using the land.

The EIC now argues that brownfield development can help meet Government targets around levelling up and will help to resolve the housing crisis, but in order to do so further planning reforms, as well as new tax reliefs and development incentives, are required.Commenting on Brownfield First, Matthew Farrow, director of policy at EIC, said:

“Our analysis shows that developers are making significantly less use of brownfield, yet there is huge potential for it to deliver ambitions around levelling up. Not only can it help find the space for 300,000 homes a year, but it can also funnel new investment to those traditionally underfunded post-industrial towns, cities and communities.Our practical, common-sense proposal around a greenfield surcharge would revitalise brownfield development, help to deliver homes, and ensure that we are making the most of this chronically underused asset.”

Bob Blackman MP, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Building Communities, also commented:

“With more than 20,000 brownfield sites across the country, there is a huge opportunity to drive levelling-up and revitalise communities wherever they are based. The report’s proposals present a series of common sense recommendations which could help us realise brownfield’s potential.”

In addition to the greenfield surcharge, the report also calls for the adoption of the Construction Leadership Council’s recommendations for longer-term regeneration zones to support redevelopment on complex sites.Other proposals to improve the economic viability of brownfield projects include increasing land remediation tax relief on sites with fewer than 25 units, and updating of the definition of derelict land so that it incorporates all sites that have been abandoned for more than a decade.Finally, it proposes that new funding to facilitate levelling-up, either through the new National Infrastructure Bank or the Levelling Up Fund, should favour brownfield proposals over greenfield ones.

Peter Atchison, chair of the EIC contaminated land working group, and director at PAGeoTechnical, commented:

“Despite inspiring high-profile examples of brownfield development, such as the former Olympic Park in the East End of London, developers are making less use of brownfield than before. Our recommendations aim to revitalise this sector and place it as the realistic alternative to building on greenfield sites, as well as a key driver for levelling up.”

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