What Exactly are Brownfield Sites? A Guide for Property Investors
In this article we will look at what exactly brownfield sites are and at the pros and cons of including brownfield land in your investment or property development plans.
What is a Brownfield Site?
In simple terms, a brownfield site is a piece of land which has previously been built on. Brownfield land is usually considered to be land that is not presently in use either fully or partly.
Brownfield land is the opposite of greenfield land. A greenfield site is a site which has not previously been built on. Brownfield land is also known as previously developed land.
Brownfield land is not necessarily brown!
Unlike greenfield land, brownfield has a formal definition. Brownfield land or previously developed land is defined in the National Planning Policy Framework or NPPF.
The countryside charity CPRE says that official data suggests there is enough brownfield land for 1,061,346 housing units over nearly 21,000 sites, covering almost 25,000 hectares in the UK.
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Types of Brownfield Land
Brownfield sites come in many different types. Much brownfield land is ex-heavy industrial land which has become disused and derelict. Brownfield land may also be commercial property or retail property. It may also be land which was formerly occupied by housing.
Typical types of brownfield land include land which has formerly been a factory, steelworks, mining site, power station or military site.
Brownfield sites may not previously have been occupied by buildings. Brownfield sites may be something like an airfield, port, railway land or storage yard.
Advantages for Investors and Developers
Brownfield land offers a number of advantages, especially for builders, developers and investors.
- Brownfield sites are often in urban areas – places where there is a need for more development land.
- Brownfield sites are often cheap to buy. (But the cost of preparing it for development may be high.)
- Brownfield sites often have services already on site. Electricity, gas, water, drainage and so on are already on or close by brownfield land.
- Good infrastructure is often already available on brownfield land. Roads and rail links are already there. They often have good public transport links.
- Brownfield land is sometimes part of a regeneration zone or development zone. There might be grants or financial incentives available from public bodies to help with the cost of remediating and developing it.
Up to £180 million of Brownfield Land Release Fund 2 (BLRF2) capital grant funding has recently been made available to English councils to support the release of council-owned brownfield land for housing.
- It is often easier to get planning permission for a brownfield site compared to a greenfield site. National planning policy has a presumption in favour of developing brownfield land. There is a brownfield first policy intention.
Local authorities are often very positive about granting planning permission on brownfield land and want to grant permission if possible.
- Development schemes for brownfield land are often less likely to receive objections, as very often local people want to see these sites improved.
Despite its advantages, brownfield land has a number of disadvantages from a planning and development point of view.
- Brownfield sites are sometimes in locations that are not very attractive for housing development. For example, places where there is still heavy industry in operation nearby.
- Some brownfield land is in ex-industrial towns and cities or even rural areas where land values are low. It may not be economically viable to develop the site given the low capital value of the finished development.
- Brownfield land may require demolition and site clearance before it can be redeveloped. This may be expensive.
- Brownfield land is often contaminated or polluted with toxic materials as a result of its previous industrial uses. The remediation of brownfield land so that it can be used for a new use such as housing can be very expensive.
It may be difficult or impossible to find out who is responsible for cleaning up a brownfield site and difficult to find a developer who is willing to risk taking on the cost of doing so. Sometimes it may not be viable to develop the land unless public funding is made available to remediate it.
- The design of developments on brownfield site may have to fit in with existing local buildings.
- Some of the buildings on brownfield sites may have historical or architectural interest or be listed buildings which means they have may have to be preserved. This might limit how the site can be developed.
- Some brownfield sites may have environmental value. They may have become important habitats for plants and animals in the time since their industrial use ended.
What is Brownfield First?
Brownfield first is an informal Government policy which is designed to encourage developers and builders to build on brownfield land in preference and before greenfield sites wherever possible. A brownfield first policy was first announced by the then Government in the 1990s. A similar brownfield first policy is being promoted by the current Government.
Brownfield first is only an informal policy, however. It does not mean that brownfield land must be built on before greenfield sites.
What is the Brownfield Register?
The Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017 require local planning authorities in England to prepare, maintain and publish registers of previously developed (brownfield) land. The aim is that developers and builders can more easily find brownfield land that can be redeveloped, and more easily obtain the necessary planning permission to build on it. The idea is that this will encourage more use of brownfield land.
Brownfield land registers should provide up-to-date and consistent information on sites that local authorities consider appropriate for residential development according to the legislation. Local planning authorities are able to grant permission in principle for residential development for suitable sites.
Brownfield registers are in two parts. Part 1 comprises all brownfield sites appropriate for residential development. Part 2 comprises those sites granted permission in principle.