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Topic: Presumption to be applied to brownfield land following review of London Plan
Posted by: Rosco White
Date/Time: 16/02/24 08:34:00

Presumption to be applied to brownfield land following review of London Plan

An overarching planning assumption in favour of development on brownfield land will be introduced across the capital following a review of the London Plan.

Housing secretary Michael Gove wrote to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan yesterday (12 February) advising him of the move, which will not apply to the green belt or Metropolitan Open Land.

The measure will be extended across England, and Gove has instructed every local authority in the country to prioritise brownfield developments and to be less bureaucratic and more flexible in applying policies that “halt” housebuilding on brownfield land. Changes to the NPPF are to be consulted on.

In December, Gove announced that he had commissioned an independent review of aspects of the London Plan. Giving a speech in London to launch the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and announce a local planning authority performance league table, he insisted that changes to the London plan were needed “if our capital is to get the homes its people need to flourish and thrive”. 

The London Plan review was carried out by Christopher Katkowski KC, Councillor James Jamieson, Dr  Paul Monaghan, and Dr Wei Yang.

They acknowledged that London has a “significant” housing crisis because the supply of new homes has not kept pace with demand, jobs and population growth.

“The current London Plan sets a capacity-based 10-year target of 52,300 homes each year from 2019/20 to 2028/29, within a context of its assessment of need of around 66,000 homes per annum,” states the report. “Four years into that 10-year period, when measured against the cumulative target, there has been an undersupply of more than 60,000 homes, more than a year of equivalent supply.”

The group also highlighted the results of the Housing Delivery Test; only six local planning authorities met their housing targets up to 2021/22. More recent Greater London Authority (GLA) data for 2022/23 suggests only four are meeting the target.

Affordable housing starts have seen an increase but, overall, there has been “a downward trend in housebuilding which, if it continues, would result in a shortfall of more than 150,000 homes – equivalent to 29 per cent of the total target – by 2028/29."

According to the report, public and private sector stakeholders are clear that the London Plan “is not the sole source of the problem”. Wider macroeconomic conditions, fire safety, infrastructure constraints, statutory consultees, viability difficulties, and planning resourcing pressures have all contributed.

But the group believes that there is “persuasive” evidence that “the combined effect of the multiplicity of policies in the London Plan now works to frustrate rather than facilitate the delivery of new homes, not least in creating very real challenges to the viability of schemes”.

Evidence given to the group suggests that policy goals in the London Plan are being applied incorrectly – as ‘musts’ rather than ‘shoulds’.

It identifies that a policy mechanism intended to assist applicants and decision-makers in navigating a path to boost the housing supply is missing from the London Plan strategy.

The group considers that “the addition to the London Plan of a strong presumption in favour of residential development on brownfield sites would be an effective and worthwhile way of making it much more likely that the plan will facilitate the delivery of the number of new homes which London has the capacity to provide. An alternative (or meanwhile) course would be issuing a written ministerial statement and/or an addition to the Planning Practice Guidance which sets out a presumption along similar lines”.

The local planning authorities that will need to apply the presumption are those whose net housing completions since 2019/20 have fallen below the cumulative annualised total of their 10-year target.

Where the presumption applies, it means granting planning permission “as quickly as possible unless the benefits of doing so would be significantly and demonstrably outweighed by any adverse impacts which would arise from not according with policies in this plan”.

In applying the presumption, "substantial weight" is to be given to the benefits of delivering homes.

In his letter to the mayor of London, Gove explains that given the importance of delivering homes in cities, “where there also remains some persistent under-delivery”, there is a benefit to applying the recommendation more broadly across England.

Christopher Katkowski KC, the lead reviewer of the London Plan, said: “I am delighted to see the idea which I together with my colleagues on the London Plan Review came up with of a planning policy presumption in favour of delivering new homes on brownfield sites being taken forward on a wider scale as part of a suggested change to the NPPF. The inspiration for the brownfield presumption came from the NPPF in the first place and so it is good to see the idea being brought back to its roots as an additional lever to encourage the delivery of new homes. I see this as a worthwhile and welcome change."

Gove intends to consult on changing two policies in the NPPF, after which he wants to introduce them “as soon as possible”.

The first change seeks to “empower decision-makers to take a more proportionate approach to applying policies or guidance in relation to internal layout of development, giving more weight to the benefits of delivering as many homes as possible”.

Gove wants to make a change to the Housing Delivery Test, “whereby all authorities subject to the housing need urban uplift will be subject to a presumption in favour of sustainable development on brownfield land should they not deliver at least 95 per cent of their assessed need”.

The consultation begins today (13 February) and closes on 26 March.

Gove also uses the letter to notify Khan that he is seeking views on whether changes are required to the threshold at which a residential planning application is referable to the mayor. This is currently set at 150 homes or more.

In a statement on the UK Government’s website, Gove said: “Today marks another important step forward in our Long-Term Plan for Housing, taking a brownfield first approach to deliver thousands of new homes where people want to live and work, without concreting over the countryside. Our new brownfield presumption will tackle under-delivery in our key towns and cities – where new homes are most needed to support jobs and drive growth.”

The brownfield land policy consultation can be found here on the UK Government website.  

The London Plan Review report can be found here  and the housing secretary's letter to the mayor of London can be found here  on the UK Government website.

The government announced that legislation had been laid in Parliament today (13 February) to extend current permitted development rights (PDRs), so that commercial buildings of any size can be converted into new homes. This includes shops and offices.  

Also, the government is consulting on proposals that would see more new extensions or large loft conversions freed from the need to seek planning permission. It closes on 9 April and can be found here on the UK Government website.  


Paul Wakefield, planning partner at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, said: “Interestingly, in the announcement, the government once again seeks to draw a distinction between brownfield and greenbelt, suggesting that the one be prioritised in favour of the other. This is a false equivalence, as the numerous brownfield sites within the greenbelt testify.

“However, the content of the consultation doesn’t quite match the rhetoric, and instead simply focuses on delivering increased density on brownfield sites, and euphemistically invites local planning authorities to ‘take a flexible approach to applying planning policies or guidance relating to daylight and sunlight and internal layouts of development’, whilst also proposing a presumption in favour of brownfield sites in major towns and cities.

“There are two aspects to this: the first is that there are relatively few greenfield sites in the major towns and cities already, and as such the majority of development there is already focussed on brownfield sites. With this in mind, it’s not clear how much these proposals will change things, although further incentivising such development will likely be welcomed by developers.

“Secondly, brownfield redevelopment is more expensive, which means that there are inevitably viability challenges which come from developing brownfield sites, and this often has a consequence for local authorities who have to make concessions on matters such as affordable housing provision, or other infrastructure impacts. Given the troubled finances in many local authorities, this may actually place an increased burden on councils whose finances are already stretched to breaking point, and which may mean that we see the development of accommodation which just meets the minimum acceptable living standards, with density seemingly the principal driver, at the expense of place making.

“Density done well, in the right location, can be a huge positive. However, done poorly it can create significant social problems. As such, the need for good planning remains paramount.”

CPRE head of policy and planning Paul Miner commented: "We welcome the government’s proposals to encourage developers to build on urban brownfield land. Now we need a proper brownfield-first policy too. Without one we will continue to see a chronic lack of genuinely affordable housing or homes for social rent in rural areas.

"There are enough shovel-ready brownfield sites in the UK for 1.2 million new homes. We hope that today’s announcement will help to realise their potential. We have concerns, however, that the proposed ‘presumption in favour’ will make it harder for local authorities to negotiate the provision of sufficient levels of genuinely affordable housing or the required wider infrastructure.  

"We need to build communities with a genuine mix of social housing and low cost homes for sale. Without them, the housing crisis will remain unsolved."  

Peter Hardy, Co-head of Living (Housing) at Addleshaw Goddard, said: "This will certainly be a welcome boost to development but we need to see even bigger commitments by the government. If the government wants to demonstrate that it is serious about increasing housing supply, there needs to be radical reform. Not everyone will be happy with this, of course, but at this point only major change will bring us close to the number of new homes that are needed.

"Town and city centre developments will benefit from existing infrastructure provisions, but only to an extent. Who will fund the additional school and health centre places required by the new residents?

"Gove has once again said there is no plan to build on the green belt. But much green belt land is poor quality so there is a strong argument to be more selective and boost decent re-wilded green land whilst using the poor quality land for housing and other infrastructure."

Craig Pettit, planning director at Marrons, noted that "the types of homes considered acceptable in London may not be elsewhere, moreover, there are towns and cities across the country that benefit from greenfield and green belt development to assist in the growth of local infrastructure the local economy".

"The government needs to recognise that it’s not a one size fits all approach and a balanced approach to economic and housing growth must be advocated. Green belt development has the ability in many locations, where done sustainably, to introduce far more benefits than brownfield development.”

Claire Dutch, co-head of planning at law firm Ashurst, said: "Another raft of proposals to boost the supply of housing has emerged from the government this morning. The flagship policy – encouraging residential development on brownfield land - is nothing new. The government has added bells and whistles to strengthen the policy which at first glance is helpful. But the new proposals come within weeks of a revised NPPF which states that urban densification should not happen if the uplift is out of character with the existing area. Mixed messages continue.

"The government continues to single mindedly focus on more brownfield development as the panacea to solve the housing crisis whilst the green belt remains sacrosanct."

Ritchie Clapson CEngMIStructE, co-founder of propertyCEO, said: “Today’s announcement underlines the importance of converting unused brownfield sites which could unlock up to 1.2 million new homes right across the country, according to countryside charity CPRE. But simply removing restrictions will do little to solve the housing crisis unless other key issues are addressed.

“The vast majority of brownfield conversion projects are too small to be attractive to large housebuilders. But they're perfect for SME builders – a group who previously accounted for over 30 per cent of all development in the UK but who now represent just 12 per cent. The government needs to be doing a lot more to encourage landlords and other solo entrepreneurs to take on these smaller development projects, otherwise they simply won't happen."

13 February 2023
Laura Edgar, The Planner

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