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One million new homes on derelict land could transform towns and cities

A new analysis of councils’ Brownfield Land Registers, published by CPRE, demonstrates the huge potential that building on derelict and vacant land has for the regeneration of towns and cities, and the provision of new homes.

In order to provide enough housing in England for everyone who needs it, we must be creative within our finite land. By making use of suitable brownfield sites, the homes we need can be built in the places we need them, while our beautiful countryside is allowed to thrive.

Brownfield sites are also often close to where people already work and live, with infrastructure such as public transport, schools and shops already in place. CPRE has long campaigned for brownfield development to be brought to the top of the planning agenda. We urged the government to introduce regulations that make it compulsory for local planning authorities to publish a list of suitable brownfield sites, and estimates of their capacity for housing. These regulations came into force in April 2017, and we were finally able to definitively analyse the number of identified suitable brownfield sites for housing across the whole of England.

In State of Brownfield 2018, we found our previous estimates were accurate: suitable brownfield sites identified by local planning authorities have capacity for more than one million homes – and yet we know this is a minimum given there are smaller sites that are not recorded. This report keeps our understanding of this capacity up-to-date and measures progress
towards achieving the government’s aim of ‘making full and efficient use of brownfield land’.

We are using updated registers provided by local planning authorities to assess how brownfield capacity has changed since last year. All the sites on the registers have been assessed by local planning authorities as being ‘suitable’ for housing development, having had regard to their environmental, amenity and heritage value.

The analysis highlights that there is space on suitable ‘brownfield land’ – land that has previously been built on, and now sits derelict or vacant – to accommodate more than one million new homes, two-thirds of which are ‘shovel ready’ and could make an immediate contribution to meeting housing need, as they have been confirmed as being deliverable within five years.

Prioritising this land, which councils have shown is ready and waiting to be redeveloped, would not only help to transform run-down areas, and provide more homes, but also prevent the unnecessary loss of precious countryside and green spaces for housing.

Despite this demonstrable success of Brownfield Land Registers, CPRE fears that the definition of ‘previously developed land’ given in the registers’ regulations means that a large number of sites are currently being missed, and the full potential to bring forward as much suitable brownfield land for housing as possible is not being met.

It also highlights that housing density assumptions for the land identified is low. By increasing the density of housing built on brownfield land, councils will be able to make best use of the space available and deliver more homes.

For example: recent research by CPRE London in the Borough of Enfield found space for at least 37,000 homes on a wide range brownfield land. This is compared to just 2,170 homes identified on Enfield’s most recently published register.

Rebecca Pullinger, planning campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England said:

‘Building on brownfield land presents a fantastic opportunity to simultaneously remove local eyesores and breathe new life into areas crying out for regeneration. It will help to limit the amount of countryside lost to development, and build more homes in areas where people want to live, with infrastructure, amenities and services already in place.

‘Councils have worked hard to identify space suitable for more than one million new homes. But until we have a brownfield first approach to development, and all types of previously developed land are considered, a large number of sites that could be transformed into desperately needed new homes will continue to be overlooked. The government, local councils and house builders must work hard to bring these sites forward for development and get building.’

Many areas across England with high housing need also have a large amount of brownfield land ready for redevelopment. London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield have identified land available for regeneration that would provide almost half a million homes.

In order to make best use of suitable brownfield land, CPRE is urging the government to introduce a genuine ‘brownfield first’ policy, which ensures that suitable previously developed or under-used land is prioritised for redevelopment over green spaces and countryside. Clearer definitions and guidelines must be given so that the registers act as a true pipeline, identifying all possible brownfield sites and recording their suitability for uses other than housing, including uses that protect the biodiversity or heritage value of sites where applicable.


Notes to editors

1. CPRE, State of Brownfield 2019. Download here 

2. All the sites on the registers have been assessed by local planning authorities as being ‘suitable’ for housing development, having had regard to their environmental, amenity and heritage value.

3. Key statistics in brownfield registers analysis:

Number of local authorities with a published register 338
Number of sites identified 18,277
Total area (hectares) identified 26,002
Minimum housing capacity identified 1,077,292
Minimum housing capacity of deliverable sites 634,750

4. Breakdown for new brownfield sites added in the past 12 months:

New sites added since February 2018 2,634
Total area (hectares) of new sites added since February 2018 2,894
Minimum housing capacity of new sites added since February 2018 126,099*

*The total housing capacity of registers that have been reviewed in the past 12 months is 822,929 homes. This figure has been used in assessing the proportion of homes that are newly identified.

The requirement in the regulations that land should be ‘available for residential development’ and the definition of that term in article 4(2) may result in missing opportunities to make better use of existing developed sites. For example, supermarkets and their car parks could be converted to provide homes whilst maintaining existing uses.

Regional breakdown of key statistics in brownfield registers analysis:


Number of LPAs


Number of sites Total area (hectares) Total minimum housing capacity

Minimum housing capacity of deliverable sites


East 48 1,750 4,440 107,748 78,285
East Midlands 42 1,208 2,146 62,514 35,824
London 35 2,997 2,642 287,051 170,185
North East 12 731 1,242 35,344 16,814
North West 40 2,475 3,292 152,625 63,554
South East 69 3,052 3,878 144,367 85,333
South West 39 1,745 2,120 70,831 52,698
West Midlands 31 2,436 3,314 102,866 58,251
Yorkshire and The Humber 22 1,883 2,929 113,946 73,806
Total 338 18,277 26,002 1,077,292 634,750