UK: The Greenfield/Brownfield Dilemma

Last Updated: 18 January 2001
Article by Richard Sugar

The identification of land for new housing development has never been so difficult for developers. This follows radical Government guidance in the form of Planning Policy Guidance Note 3 (PPG3) published in March this year. The Government's principle aim is to provide the majority of new housing on brownfield sites, that is to say, land which has previously been developed. The Guidance gives clear priority to the development of brownfield land before greenfield land. Whilst this concept is straightforward enough in principle, the application of it throws up many uncertainties for the house building industry.

On a national level, the Government has set a target for 60 per cent of new houses to be built on previously developed land. A similar target has been suggested on a regional level through the draft Regional Planning Guidance for Yorkshire and the Humber. Whilst in the first instance, the duty to deliver development on brownfield land falls with Local Planning Authorities, the Government has indicated that planning applications on larger greenfield residential sites which local planning authorities are minded to approve, will first have to be referred to the Secretary of State, in order to see whether he agrees with the authority's judgment.

PPG3 sets a clear hierarchy for the development of land with a search sequence which starts with the re-use of previously developed land within urban areas, then allows consideration of urban extensions and finally new development around nodes in good public transport corridors. In making judgments about the suitability of sites, several criteria are to be applied, the first of which is the availability of previously developed sites. PPG3 advises Local Planning Authorities to undertake urban housing capacity studies in order to form such judgments. At present, however, Authorities have not had the opportunity of undertaking such analysis (other than at a very basic level).

It is apparent that until there is a clear understanding of the amount of previously developed land that is suitable for housing use, the application of PPG3 policies will be difficult to predict. This is particularly the case when one considers that the Guidance is stated to be a material consideration which may supersede policies in development plans and therefore make existing housing allocations on greenfield land effectively worthless.

The interpretation which different Local Planning Authorities appear to be putting on the Guidance varies significantly. At its recent Executive Board Meeting, Leeds City Council resolved that following a broad analysis of brownfield land within the district, as suitable brownfield sites were available, there should be a presumption against permitting housing on greenfield land, even though the greenfield land in question may have been allocated in a development plan for residential purposes. This approach leaves a number of questions for residential developers: what do they do now with greenfield sites which they have spent significant amounts of money promoting through the development plan system? Will it simply be a question of waiting until brownfield land has been developed and then returning to the same greenfield sites? How long will it take the Local Planning Authority to conclude a fully detailed urban housing capacity study? How should such a study deal with any mismatch between the location of brownfield land and different areas of housing market demand?

By way of comparison to Leeds, in Kirklees there appears to be a recognition that although brownfield sites generally should be developed before greenfield sites, there should be at all times a sufficiency of land. As a result, Kirklees appears to have recognised that greenfield sites will need to be developed now, even though undeveloped brownfield land still exists.

At a national level, since the introduction of PPG3 a few months ago, the Secretary of State has already shown his commitment to the refusal of planning permission on greenfield sites. Particular examples of this exist in Nuneaton and Bedworth, where large greenfield developments have been refused, notwithstanding that the sites were allocated for residential development.

The problem becomes even more complex when one realises that the development of brownfield land is itself far from straightforward. Apart from the inherent reclamation issues that often exist, there is genuine resistance to developing within urban areas on the grounds of town cramming. Indeed, in a number of recent appeals, development within suburban areas has been refused on grounds of density, over-development and loss of privacy and amenity. This is the case even when regular standards on these issues have been met. It is clear that such an approach will have a detrimental effect on the achievability of brownfield housing land development targets.

The dilemmas for housebuilders are obvious. On one level, efforts to develop on brownfield land can be thwarted because of fears of town cramming, whilst on another, greenfield land which has been successfully promoted through development plans may not now be capable of development for some considerable time. It is at present almost impossible to make judgments about how long that time period is and the information which will inform that judgment has in most instances, neither been prepared, nor considered in terms of its application.

Just to make matters worse, it is expected that a revision to PPG4 (Dealing with Employment Land) will be produced in Consultation Draft form later this year. It is widely rumoured that this document will contain a similar approach to the identification of such land.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.