What Exactly are Greenfield Sites? A Guide for Property Investors
In this article, we will look at what exactly is a greenfield site and at the pros and cons of including greenfield sites in your property development or investment plans.
What is a Greenfield Site?
In simple terms, a greenfield site is a piece of land which has not previously been built on.
A greenfield site is the opposite of a brownfield site. A brownfield site is a site which has previously been built on.
There is no formal definition of what a greenfield site is. Greenfield is not an official planning term. Unlike brownfield land, greenfield land is not defined in the National Planning Policy Framework or NPPF.
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The Types of Greenfield Site
A greenfield site may literally be a green field. But a greenfield site is not always a green field.
A greenfield site may be in a rural or countryside location but it does not have to be. There are greenfield sites in urban areas. Greenfield sites may be private land and they may also be publicly owned land.
The most common type of greenfield site is agricultural land which is being used for farming. However, it can also be forestry land, wild land, moorland or amenity land.
Advantages for Investors and Developers
Greenfield sites offer a number of advantages, especially for builders, developers and investors.
- Greenfield sites are often cheaper to buy, especially if they are currently agricultural land which has a relatively low value.
- Greenfield sites are often cheaper to develop and build on. They may need only relatively low-cost land preparation or groundworks. Greenfield sites do not require demolition or site clearance as brownfield sites usually do. Greenfield sites do not need decontamination or remediation.
- Greenfield sites are often in attractive locations, in rural and semi-rural places. They are often in high demand, especially for housing development.
- Greenfield sites may offer more flexibility to build what you want to build and more design flexibility, subject to obtaining planning permission. They are in some ways a blank canvas. Buildings do not have to fit in with adjacent buildings and building designs because there may not be any existing buildings.
- Greenfield sites often offer space to expand in the future. (Perhaps into an adjacent greenfield site.)
- There is potential for high residual value with a greenfield site, making them potentially very attractive to developers. The value of a greenfield site with planning consent and with buildings is likely to be substantially higher than the value of it as a green field for example.
Despite their advantages, greenfield sites have a number of disadvantages from a planning and development point of view.
- Greenfield sites are rare in towns and cities. These are usually the places where more homes are most needed.
- Greenfield sites often have no services or inadequate services. The cost of supplying the site with electricity, gas, telecommunications, water and sewerage may be high.
- Greenfield sites may be difficult to access. They may have poor, local infrastructure or even no infrastructure. The cost of providing infrastructure to a greenfield site may be high.
- There may be planning problems. It may be difficult or even impossible to obtain planning permission to develop a greenfield site. Greenfield sites may be excluded from development by the Local Plan. Greenfield sites are sometimes within Green Belt areas or are in National Parks or Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB).
- Development and development proposals on greenfield sites often receive many objections, particularly from local residents. Objectors are often concerned about issues such as loss of amenities, loss of wildlife habitats, environmental issues and increased traffic levels when a proposal to develop a greenfield site is made.
- Greenfield sites can be subject to issues like flooding and ecological issues since they may be important natural habitats for animals and plants.
The Problem with Greenfield Sites
The main problem facing greenfield sites is that there is a high demand for development land, and particularly for new homes, in the UK but only a limited amount of land to develop. Although it is considered desirable to build on brownfield land where possible brownfield land is also limited in quantity and can be difficult to develop. As a result, greenfield sites are often in high demand and there is pressure to build on them.
Does Greenfield Mean Green Belt?
Greenfield is not the same as Green Belt. Greenfield sites may be within a Green Belt area but are not necessarily. Most greenfield sites are not within the Green Belt.
Green Belt was introduced nationally by the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. It was introduced to allow local authorities to regulate the development of green space around urban areas and limit urban sprawl. There is a general presumption against development in the Green Belt although it is not totally prohibited. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) advises against inappropriate development in the Green Belt.