Brownfield Land and the Housing Crisis

DateNov 17, 2015
AuthorMarinis Boulmpasakos

Attention is focused on brownfield land as it is considered a strong asset in tackling the housing crisis.

It is predicted that over the coming years the Greater London housing shortage is going to increase sharply. The document “Further Alterations to the London Plan”, that was published by The Greater London Authority in 2014 indicated that a minimum of 49,000 new homes would be needed in London every year between 2015 and 2036[1]. Furthermore, additional sources, such as property firm CBRE1, suggested a higher estimated number for the required accommodation to plug the housing gap in London and in turn in the UK [1,2].

brownfield land

The target of providing residents of London with 400,000 new homes by 2025, as set by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, combined with the intention of protecting UK countryside has driven a desire to make the best possible use of the available brownfield land. With this in mind, Boris Johnson and Housing Minister Brandon Lewis, officially announced on July 2015 the launch of the London Land Commission, the purpose of which is to “identify all the public sector and brownfield land in London” (UK chancellor George Osborne, 2015)[3,4]. The preliminary stages of this work are expected to be completed by the end of 2015 and the subsequent information will be used by City Hall to display on maps the spread of sites across London[3,4,5]. This data and subsequent maps will create a more accurate picture of the amount of brownfield land that could potentially be developed for housing [4,6].

However, despite the intention of reusing all the available brownfield, there are those who claim that brownfield land might diminish in the next few years[7]. For example, Richard Pestell (senior associate at consultancy Peter Brett Associates) and Stuart Robinson (planning chairman at CBRE) estimate that the existing capacity of such land is insufficient to provide a solid solution to the accommodation problem[8].

Furthermore, according to a recent study conducted by the University of the West of England2, brownfield land across the UK could accommodate the construction of up to 976,000 dwellings with the respective number for London estimated to be 146,000 homes[9,10]. This, would essentially only cover the housing needs for less than four years.

Therefore, with London’s population estimated to reach 11 million by 2050 [11], is brownfield land enough to tackle the housing crisis?

A report conducted by Spatial Economics Research Centre, Quod planning consultancy, and business group London First, suggests that a clear priority should be given in making use of the brownfield land. However, greenfield sites should be re-evaluated as a potential source for urban development [12]. The expanding population requires housing and based on the looming future lack of brownfield sites, Barney Stringer, Director of Quod, emphasises that we “can’t rule out sensible reviews of the Green Belt boundaries” [13].

On the other hand, the research “From Waste Spaces to Living Spaces” highlights that brownfield land comprises a renewable resource. Conductors of the research support this statement by presenting data gathered by local authorities which verifies the number of brownfield sites that were added in the database (for 2010 and 2011) was greater than the respective number of those that had been removed [10].

With no doubt, London, and the UK in general, face a severe housing crisis that will be brought up extensively in the future and will challenge the government to apply some fresh thinking. When London’s brownfield land database is completed, it will trigger a number of actions, as it would produce a realistic estimation of what percent brownfield land could contribute in combating the housing crisis.


1 CBRE Group (Real estate services and investment firm)

2 From Wasted Space to Living Spaces: The Availability of Brownfield Land for Housing Development in England, University of the West of England, for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, November 2014


  1. Planning Resource, 2014. New London Plan housing targets 'will not meet growing need' [Online] Available at: [Accessed 14 October 2015]
  2. House of Commons Library (Parliament), 2015. Meeting London's housing need. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 20 October 2015]
  3. Department for Communities and Local Government, The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP and The Rt Hon George Osborne MP, 2014. Government initiatives to help build more new homes on brownfield land. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 15 October 2015]
  4. The Mayor and the Greater London Authority, 2015. Mayor to build first-ever database of public land for development in London. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 15 October 2015]
  5. Out-Law, 2015. Preliminary London brownfield register expected to be completed by end of 2015. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 16 October 2015]
  6. BBC, 2015. Planning shake-up to get more homes built. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 17 October 2015]
  7. Greater London Authority, 2015. Subject: Options for Accommodating London’s Growth. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 21 October 2015]
  8. Planning Resource, 2014. 'Most brownfield' is already in system. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 18 October 2015]
  9. This is Money, 2014. Acute housing supply crisis could be solved by building one million new homes on existing 'brownfield' land.  [Online] Available at: [Accessed 5 September 2015]
  10. New Start, 2015. How much brownfield land is available for housing? How much brownfield land is available for housing? [Online] Available at: [Accessed 5 September 2015]
  11. Mayor of London, 2014. London Infrastructure Plan 2050, A consultation [Online] Available at: [Accessed 19 October 2015]
  12. SERC (LSE), QUOD, London First, 2015. “The Green Belt: A place for Londoners?”. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 21 October 2015]
  13. London First, 2015. Time to re-evaluate Green Belt to help solve London’s housing crisis. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 21 October 2015]