Balls: greenfield-first, but brownfield too

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has admitted that weakening of brownfield-first policy has hit sustainable development in his own Morley & Outwood constituency but has committed a Labour government to large-scale sites for new towns and garden cities.

“In my community, the weakening of the ‘brownfield first’ presumption is undermining sustainable development in an area where viable brownfield sites are widely available,” he told the National House Building Council annual lunch.

He bemoaned low current building levels and promised to build 200,000 a year.

He said he has asked Sir Michael Lyons to report on how more residential land can be brought to market, how to ensure communities who want to expand but lack land can do so and how land banking can be avoided.

“We are also clear that we cannot deliver this ambition unless we build new towns,” he said.

“Our priority will be to create ways in which a local authority or groups of authorities are incentivised to come forward to identify locations capable of sustaining large scale sites for new towns and garden cities.”

He promised new town development corporations to impose them by acquiring land and using planning powers, and innovative ways of supporting private investment like allowing them to retain increased business rate revenues.

Mr Balls was plainly determined to ride the contradictory brownfield and greenfield horses.

“If we are to meet that target of at least 200,000 new homes a year by the end of the next parliament, while protecting communities, preserving valuable green belt land, avoiding haphazard urban sprawl and encouraging quality housing in sustainable communities, then every community will need to play its part and plan for the next generation,” he said.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England said that planning and design have moved on considerably since the first garden cities were built early in the 20th century.

“What the country needs is a proper strategy for ensuring that brownfield sites are used before greenfield for new housing,” said senior planning campaigner Paul Miner.

“New settlements should be a last resort after the brownfield options have been fully considered and taken up.”

The Town & Country Planning Association, however, which campaigns for new greenfield settlements, welcomed Mr Balls’ comments.

“The TCPA is… delighted to hear the shadow chancellor repeat the Labour Party’s commitment to a new generation of garden cities and new towns and in particular begin to address how we can achieve the beautiful, inclusive and well-planned communities of the future,” said chief executive Kate Henderson.

Communities minister Stephen Williams’ speech concentrated on building regulations and standards. He said the Government’s current review is in “listening mode”.

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