Thursday, 15 September 2011

Brownfield sites - a public-private partnership.

A must-read article by by Simon Jenkins, a Guardian columnists who is also chairman of the National Trust, provides a devastating critique of Eric Pickles's plans to "reform" planning laws in order to release protected greenfield land for housing. Among other things Jenkins claims that existing brownfield sites are estimated to have room for a further 3m houses.

A friend of mine who specialises in housing finance tells me that the major reason why builders prefer to build on previously undeveloped land is that the risk is substantially less. Building on brownfield land involves the risk of subsidence due to the possible collapse of old drains and culverts, seepage of noxious gases and other undesirables. If local authorities were to clear and prepare brownfield sites for building, and guarantee them, that would produce a more level playing-field.

That seems to me to produce an excellent opportunity for a viable public-private partnership. As a bonus the public works involved in clearing and preparing the sites would produce an income injection into the economy which would help create the demand for the houses to be built.

Changes in the planning rules may seem small beer compared with the effects of businesses bankruptcies and public services cuts caused by the government's misguided economic policy. But the effect of these falls mainly on present generations. A free for all by greedy developers looking for short-term profit will damage our green and pleasant land, and the quality of life of future generations, for centuries.

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