Brownfield electioneering: a development revolution?

With the election campaign in full swing it is safe to assume that there will be little escaping televised political debates, carefully choreographed interviews and other full throttle electioneering over the coming weeks.

Whilst many of us are perhaps already jaded by this merry-go-round the most interesting part is likely to be the post-election result, deal making that may or may not see a minority coalition government come into power?! Not in my lifetime can I recall an election campaign with so much uncertainty, so many parties and so many potential outcomes.

Whilst there are the expected environmental pledges within the published manifestos concerning flood risk, fracking and climate change, it is interesting to see brownfield land returning centre stage. With an obvious linkage to the property market and our perpetual national failure to build the required volume of housing, it is perhaps unsurprising to see brownfield land featuring in more than one political manifesto.

So the Conservatives pledging £1 billion for a “Brownfield Regeneration Fund” makes for interesting reading alongside commitments around housebuilding, first time buyer incentives and a requirement for local authorities to have a “register of available land.” The concept of a register of sites will not be lost on the contaminated land community, familiar of course with Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which has in recent years had central government funding reduced to zero. Less stick perhaps and a lot more potential carrot?

Whilst the Labour Party appears to have plans for a “use it or lose it” policy aimed at developers and other “landbankers” sitting on potential development land, I am not sure how beneficial this might be where perhaps market conditions are still not favourable enough to make brownfield sites a compelling proposition. The large retailers already appear to be in a phase of reducing numbers of  sites that they are holding and therefore my view would be that an exercise in making these sites more viable is what is required not a mandatory sale. That might simply be better dissemination of information concerning those properties enabling fast and effective site identification prior to enabling works and the planning application process.

The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party unsurprisingly have manifestos with significant coverage of environmental issues and sustainable society and both cite brownfield development as an objective. Whilst neither makes explicit commitments to brownfield land, interestingly there is a pledge from the Lib Dems to build 300,000 new homes a year by 2020. An ambitious plan by any stretch of the imagination, where currently we struggle to deliver 100,000 units per year.

UKIP puts forward some interesting concepts around scrapping Stamp Duty Land Tax on all properties developed on brownfield sites whilst the Scottish National Party does not reference the brownfield debate but does commit to a strong house building program of 30,000 units per year.

Commentators of the property market are already raising concerns regarding the undersupply of housing driving prices upwards when we have hardly even achieved a return to normal market conditions in terms of the number of transactions per year, post-recession.

Whoever is in government once the arguing and jostling for position is over there appears to be healthy times ahead for the environmental sector generally with a host of election promises requiring some serious thought and consideration if they are to be turned into reality. In terms of brownfield land and addressing our housing shortage, the reuse of marginal sites surely remains a long overdue and latent opportunity. The hurdles do require a co-ordinated approach from both the public and private sectors and I hope that whoever is in No 10 post-election is able to engage the environmental sector effectively to help the politicians deliver on their promises.

Dan Montagnani is the managing director of GroundSure, which produces environmental-report data to help solicitors, homebuyers, businesses, consultants, surveyors and lenders make more informed property-transaction decisions.

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