Labour Leader Ed Milliband has become the second party leader in the UK General Election campaign to state that a government of which he is Prime Minister would beef up the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] to include the principle of Brownfield First. That is the principle that sites which have previously been developed should take precedence over undeveloped and Green Belt sites when it comes to planning applications. Mr Milliband’s comment came in answer to a question from the Daily Telegraph which commented that there was no mention of the Green Belt in the Labour Party manifesto which was launched today and which did include a commitment to build up to 200,000 home per year by 2020, with priority going to local first time buyers.
Mr Milliband added that the commitment to Brownfield First was “important for Telegraph readers.” This was a reference to the Telegraph’s “Hands Off Our Land” campaign to protect the countryside, and particularly the Green Belt, from inappropriate developments which are often opposed by local people. It is also a shrewd piece of political positioning for Mr Milliband who is clearly aware that, while all Parties, including his own, are committed to a push to build new homes, particularly in the south east of Britain and on the fringes of Britain’s urban centres, many voters in rural and even in many suburban constituencies, are concerned by the apparent lack of concern for the Green Belt and environmental issues exhibited by the Cameron Government and by the Conservative Party’s close ties to Property Developers.
In September 2014 an investigation by the Independent newspaper found that a number of large property development companies had supported the Conservative Party to the tune of £800,000 in the previous two years. Donors included Glentree International which donated £12,600 in 2013 and which has a portfolio of high net worth clients including Lakshmi Mittal and Bernie Eccleston. Another donor, the Topland Group directly linked their donation of £50,000 since 2011 to party policy, telling the Independent
“…There is a perception that Labour will not have the interests of real estate close to their minds so it is more appropriate for companies like ours to support the Conservatives.”
Faced with the criticism of the Government’s policy and the success of UKIP Candidate Mark Reckless in using an unpopular proposed local development as a political weapon against his former Party, the Conservatives, in the Rochester and Strood By election, Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to bolster his green credentials in March this year when he used a speech on housing policy to claim
“When it comes to our Green Belt, I have been clear. The line remains scored in the sand – that land is precious. I am a country man. I love our countryside.”
However, aside from the suggestion of developers buying influence with donations, the Prime Minister is also vulnerable on figures released by the Campaign to Protect Rural England [CPRE] in March, which suggested that on current planning applications 219,000 houses are planned for England’s Green Belt, up 60,000 on the figure in August 2013. It may be this factor which led to the leaking of a pledge to protect the Green Belt until 2020 which Conservative Party sources told the Telegraph would be included in the Conservative Party’s own Manifesto, which is due to be launched tomorrow, Tuesday 14 April. On the wider political canvas of the General Election Campaign, the fact that Mr Milliband has chosen to follow up on a commitment made by Shadow Planning Minister Roberta Blackman-Woods who told the 2014 Labour Party Conference that a Labour Government would “strengthen brownfield first and put it back to what was a successful policy under Labour”, coming so soon after Nigel Farage, the Leader of the UK Independence Party [UKIP] also endorsed a Brownfield First policy, and Mr Cameron’s clear nervousness regarding the issue, suggests that there is now a broad consensus that critics of the permissive nature of the NPPF were right.
UPDATE: Tuesday 14 April
Prime Minister David Cameron has just announced the launch of a £1 Billion Brownfield Fund to facilitate the building of 400,000 new homes, while the Conservative Manifesto pledges
“…We will ensure that brownfield land is used as much as possible for new development. We will require local authorities to have a register of what is available, and ensure that 90 per cent of suitable brownfield sites have planning permission for housing by 2020.”
However, there are no details on funding or detailed timetables.
In short, as we said yesterday, in public at least, the major political parties are lining up behind “Brownfield First.”