By James Carson
The UK government believes that brownfield land has a crucial role in meeting the need for new homes. But development of brownfield sites has often been held back because of the need for high upfront capital and delays in obtaining planning permission.
Last year, a new programme of Housing Zones (HZs) was launched by the chancellor of the exchequer and the Mayor of London with the aim of breaking down the barriers to brownfield development.
What are Housing Zones?
HZs are areas where home building will be accelerated by partnerships between local authorities, land owners, investors and builders. The areas proposed by local authorities (which may include brownfield sites and town centres) will receive a share of government funding that will unlock vital components of the HZ scheme, such as infrastructure, site acquisition and leaseholder buyouts. In addition, planning restrictions will be removed, enabling rapid delivery of residential development.
Housing Zones in London
London’s HZ programme was launched in 2014 as part of the Mayor’s housing strategy. The aim is to build 50,000 new homes in 20 HZs across the capital by 2025. The £400m programme is also expected to create 100,000 new jobs.
The first 18 zones in London include:
- Abbey Wood, Plumstead and Thamesmead (Greenwich)
- Hounslow Town Centre (Hounslow)
- New Bermondsey (Lewisham)
- Tottenham (Haringey)
- Wembley (Brent)
Most London’s boroughs have published their HZ plans. Examples include:
- The Royal Borough of Greenwich has identified Abbey Wood Plumstead and Thamesmead as an HZ, with the aim of providing 1,512 homes. The borough sees the programme as an opportunity to improve public space and infrastructure in advance of the arrival of Crossrail in 2018.
- Hounslow’s HZ will create three residential sites with 3,478 new homes by 2025. The HZ will also host relocated council offices, a flexible community space and a new primary school.
- Tottenham’s HZ plans include 10,000 new homes. Supporting this growth, infrastructure development will comprise a revamped Tube, bus and rail station at Tottenham Hale, three Crossrail 2 stations and overground rail upgrades.
Housing Zones beyond London
In his March 2015 Budget speech, the chancellor of the exchequer confirmed the creation of 20 new HZs outside of London. Among the areas included are:
- Guildford and East Hampshire
- Derby, Stoke and West Lindsey
- Wakefield and York
The Treasury hopes that central government investment of £200 million will result in up to 45,000 new homes in these regional HZs.
HZs: the reaction
There has a been a range of responses to the HZ initiative.
Home Group, the UK’s fourth largest housing association has warmly welcomed the new HZs:
“Enterprise zones worked for business when implemented correctly and the concept will work to help housing providers deliver the homes which are so desperately needed.”
The National Housing Federation (NHF) also welcomed the linkage of planning, housing and infrastructure delivery. However the NHF indicated that the HZ programme lacks ambition:
“Housing Zones are currently relatively small-scale, and the principles should be applied at a larger scale to genuinely tackle the housing crisis.”
The HZs received a cautious response from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA):
“RIBA is wary of such a large release of public land on very tricky brownfield sites with lots of issues that require strategic planning at a local level. We await the detail on how the Government would support delivery of high quality infrastructure and ensure high standards of design in new development.
As host to one of the new regional HZs, Bristol City Council has welcomed the “much needed investment”. However, Hackney Council believes the HZ model is less appropriate for inner London boroughs because the challenges are more to do with making affordable housing viable than providing infrastructure.
The law firm Pinsent Masons has highlighted one possible unintended consequence of HZs.
“As Housing Zones pick up momentum, this may have the adverse effect of increasing surrounding land values and stimulating more right to buy, which may affect the viability of future phases.”
They may not match the 260,000 homes required to tackle England’s housing shortage, but the broadly positive welcome HZs been given suggests that they are a step in the right direction.
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