The Greenfield / Brownfield Debate

A recent BBC Question Time saw Baroness Shirley Williams make a strong point about the current drive to develop green belt land (BBC Question Time, 19th March 2015).

Baroness Williams’ point was mainly that sizeable areas of land are present in most urban areas which have already been subject to some sort of development and are now derelict; i.e. Brownfield sites.  Her point raises some interesting questions on the development strategies employed to furnish the housing market:

  • Is the “Green Belt” sacrosanct? Clearly not and developments in those areas do occur; the Local Plan provides the first point of reference.
  • Green belt sites suggest Greenfield conditions and we all know these are the easiest sites to develop … don’t we?

In answer to this last question we offer some further comments:

  • Greenfield sites are not easy! There are numerous examples of site where a ‘greenfield’ site has been subject to some major engineering in order to render it suitable for development. For example, we are familiar with a site that was to be developed for a large supermarket on land that had only been used for agriculture.  When the earthworks were undertaken to build a development platform stability issues costing in excess of £1M were experienced; these issue being due to the underlying geology of the site.
  • Brownfield is expensive to develop? This is not our experience, though such sites can offer challenges. These challenges can generally be addressed through economical engineered solutions. Moreover, due to their locations, costs can often be offset against the lack of a need to develop new infrastructure (for example).  Risks can be mitigated firstly by understanding them and then engaging and working with Local Authorities to agree feasible strategies.  Of course this will mean some upfront investment, but Greenfield sites need this too.  It is also worth remembering that the case for developing a Brownfield site will often be welcome whereas a similar case for a Greenfield site will frequently, if not always, be met with objections; it is a truism to say there is a planning presumption in favour of Brownfield development.

It is clear that neither site type offers all the answers but the assumption that Greenfield developments are easy and offer the best cost/benefit case is frequently flawed.  The key being to consider the whole life cost and benefit to any development no matter where it is or what went before it.

We have many examples of how we’ve helped enable a range of schemes on both challenging Greenfield and Brownfield sites, so please do get in touch if you’d like to discuss a particular projects. You can see a selected UK project history here.

Do you need more information or maybe you have questions? Contact us today and let us see how we can help you.

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