Developers will deliberately delay building houses on former industrial areas to force councils to release more profitable “greenfield sites”, MPs warned as they raised fears that town halls are doing too little to protect communities from ugly construction projects.
They accused the Government of doing too little to encourage builders to meet the expense of decontaminating and facelifting so-called “brownfield sites” when cheaper alternatives were available.
In a report, the Communities and Local Government select committee said it believed the “lower viability and higher costs of developing brownfield sites may be a deterrent for some developers”.
It added: “We have particular concerns about the risk that developers will delay developing brownfield sites because local authorities will be required to release more profitable greenfield sites if insufficient housing is delivered to meet local needs.”
The MPs challenged the government to set out how it would “overcome the potential cost-barriers to the development of brownfield sites and the steps it will take to encourage the development of such sites in order to meet local housing needs”.
It sounded the warning following figures showing that planning permission has been granted for 500,000 homes in England which have yet to be built and that the length of time it takes for developers to complete a house has jumped from 24 to 32 weeks.
Critics have claimed that builders could be put off from building by George Osborne’s plans to subject town halls to “housing delivery tests” to scrutinise whether they were hitting building targets – a move that could force council chiefs to release land that is more attractive to developers.
Paul Miner of the Campaign to Protect Rural England said it had seen greenfield sites been earmarked for development in several areas including Cheshire, Durham and Swindon where former industrial sites already had planning permission.
“It is important that Government looks to implement policies that put brownfield first. Research has shown that brownfield sites are developed more quickly than greenfield once planning permission is in place, challenging the idea that brownfield is difficult or unprofitable to develop,” Mr Miner said.
“To build the homes we need, the Government must now focus its energy on bringing forward brownfield sites, rather than forcing councils to release yet more countryside for development if high housing targets are not met.”
The committee’s chairman, Clive Betts, also said the Government should consider making it a statutory duty for councils to draw up housebuilding plans in their areas. He said around one third were yet to publish a Local Plan.
“Councils need to do more to identify suitable brownfield sites and to protect their communities against the threat of undesirable development by getting an adopted Local Plan in place,” he said. “The Government needs to act to put an end to dawdling local authorities.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the Government had “got the country building again” with planning permissions at a record 250,000 last year and a 25 per cent rise in the number of new homes built.
“This is alongside putting brownfield sites at the heart of development with 90 per cent of brownfield land to have planning permission granted by 2020 and releasing enough surplus public sector land for at least 160,000 homes,” she said.
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