Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Sixth Report


Housing capacity

148. Empty homes are part of the urban housing capacity, which councils are required to consider before proposing the use of greenfield sites for new housing. Local authorities' urban housing capacity studies feed into Regional Planning Guidance. Regional Planning Guidance also has to take account of the national target that by 2008, 60 per cent of additional housing should be provided on previously developed land.[328] The vast areas of empty properties that we saw in the North West suggests that there is scope for far higher targets to be set in the northern regions.

149. Greenfield sites which already have a planning permission are also part of the housing capacity of a region. We were surprised that RPG does not take account of the number of greenfield sites that already have planning consent, indeed the Government Office for the North West did not hold information about the number of greenfield consents already granted.[329] Government Regional Offices should in future hold information about the number of new planning permissions given each year. We were pleased to learn that the Government is to commission a research project to determine the number of outstanding planning permissions for greenfield sites in areas of low housing demand.

150. We recommend that Regional Planning Guidance should use a rigorous sequential approach to using brownfield sites before greenfield sites. Much higher targets for the re-use of brownfield sites should be set. In the North West and similar regions no new planning permissions should be granted for greenfield sites.

Local plans

151. Local authorities are required to take account of the availability of empty homes and brownfield sites in neighbouring areas. The DTLR's memorandum stated:

152. However, there is evidence that this policy is not being heeded. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' memorandum stated:

    "It is important for plans at local and regional level to drive through PPG3 policies in particular by ensuring that sequential testing is happening at both a local and sub-regional level to ensure that, for example, authorities in Cheshire are not developing greeenfield sites before the regeneration of East Manchester and Merseyside is substantially complete... In particular, current Regional Planning Guidance is failing to take a sufficiently robust approach whereby individual local authorities are able to apply a sequential test within their areas, leading to prosperous suburban authorities continuing to build on brownfield sites when other areas of the region have ample brownfield supplies."[331]

Local councils must take account of the brownfield capacity elsewhere in the sub-region. We recommend that when Government Offices for the Regions review local authority development plans and Housing Investment Programme returns, they should require local authorities to provide evidence that full account has been taken of housing supply in other authorities in the sub-region.

Housing market renewal

153. It has been argued that the greenfield and inner city housing markets are so different that no account should be taken of inner urban housing and land in defining housing allocations but this is a misunderstanding of the situation. The M62 Study found that migration from inner urban areas to new build housing in the suburbs is lower now than in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. As a result, the two markets are becoming increasingly disconnected and the demographic mix of each is such that inner urban communities will tend to get smaller and suburban markets will have a tendency to grow, although our advisor Brendan Nevin, one of the study's authors, wrote, "this is all being exacerbated by a smaller persistent outflow of population from the conurbation."[332]

154. However, once housing market renewal begins, it is vital that it is not undermined by competition from the suburban areas, which are so attractive to both owner occupiers and house builders. Brendan Nevin has argued in his memorandum, that any medium term approach intended to radically improve the attractiveness of inner urban areas should be accompanied by "a measured and progressive restriction of housing development on and beyond the urban fringe,"[333] so as not to undermine the redevelopment of inner urban areas. A successful approach to housing market renewal will include the development of new homes in an appropriate mix of sizes, types and tenures and must attract a range of people back into inner urban areas. It must not be undermined by greenfield development and Regional Planning Guidance should develop a sequential test that limits new house building on greenfield sites until the regeneration of the inner urban areas is substantially complete.



155. It was clear from our visit to the North West that individual housing markets facing the problems of low demand vary significantly in terms of what represents a sustainable solution. Different solutions are required in different places, taking account of the circumstances facing the housing market in each conurbation and the need to manage change. The rules governing a Housing Market Renewal Fund must provide sufficient flexibility to take account of that diversity. Moreover, in each region, sub-region and conurbation clear leadership and policies are needed to ensure that a consistent, coherent approach is developed across Government strategies and initiatives. To address the problem of failing housing markets, the range of strategies, powers and funding described above are needed-one is not sufficient without the others.

328   Paragraph 23, PPG3, DETR, 2000 Back

329   Q191 Back

330   EMP23 Back

331   EMP55 Back

332   EMP47(a) Back

333   EMP47(a) Back

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