Planning changes to unlock brownfield sites are good news for communities and developers

Adam Daniels

Adam Daniels, Divisional Chair, North Midlands and Yorkshire, Vistry Group

A recent series of proposed changes to the planning system announced by the government and intended to facilitate the development of housing on brownfield sites, while protecting the Green Belt, should be welcomed by local communities and developers.

At Vistry, we’ve seen first-hand how, for too long, a complex planning process and under-resourced local authorities have stymied housebuilding in the UK, contributing to the housing crisis so many families and individuals are currently facing.

Now, under the reforms, councils in England will be told to prioritise brownfield developments and to be less bureaucratic and more flexible when applying policies that halt housebuilding on brownfield sites. The bar for refusing brownfield plans will also be made higher for big city councils failing to hit their locally agreed housebuilding targets.

Meanwhile, new legislation will extend current permitted development rights to allow commercial buildings of any size to be converted into new homes. The government is also launching a consultation on proposals to remove extensions or large loft conversions from the process of receiving planning permission, further freeing up local authority planning
departments to enable speedier decision-making on larger applications.

These changes are a positive step forward in tackling the housing crisis. Research from the Centre for Cities last year found that the country’s inefficient and outdated planning laws had prevented over 4 million homes from being built in the UK since 1955.

We at Vistry have long understood the role that brownfield sites can play in the delivery of new housing. We are in the market to buy as much viable land as possible this year, with a particular focus on brownfield sites, which – especially in the light of recent legislation – will enable us to develop homes as quickly as possible in the places that need them most. These sites offer a win-win for local communities by also turning places that, very often, have been derelict for some time into new homes while improving the streetscape and bringing investment in public services.

We are trying to meet the housing crisis in a sustainable and affordable way, offering great quality housing across multiple tenures. We work together with trusted partners, enabling us to offer a mix of homes for the open market, the private rental sector and affordable housing.

The factors that differentiate us from other house builders are our partnership approach, the fact that we create places rather than just homes, and our commitment to modern methods of construction (MMC).

There has been considerable negativity around MMC recently, with a number of modular developers filing for administration. In our case though, MMC really works, and 65% of the homes we’ve built this year have been open-panel timber frame homes built at Vistry Works East Midlands, our factory in Bardon, Leicestershire, which has capacity to build around 6,000 new homes a year. Our scale and our partnership model, which means 65% of the homes we create have been presold to our partners, meaning we can build in a more efficient and sustainable way.

We are in the market to grow and are particularly looking for suitable sites in Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stoke and Lincoln where we can create high-quality mixed-tenure developments that meet local communities’ housing needs. Planning reform to unlock brownfield sites more easily should enable these cities to prosper by bringing new jobs, new places to live, and new prosperity to the Midlands.

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