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Brownfield regeneration needs better government support – Civitas

The government should help meet the cost of clearing up brownfield land to kick-start the redevelopment of derelict land across the country’s towns and cities to stimulate regeneration, a new paper published by Civitas – the Institute for the Study of Civil Society – has argued. 

Within the paper it has suggested that England has enough brownfield land for 2.5 million homes, but developers are reluctant to use it because of the prohibitive costs of renovation and decontamination. 

However, it has been recommended that a new tax break could “harness the energy” of private developers and potentially cost the Treasury less than it would to provide new infrastructure for greenfield sites. Civitas stated that the tax relief the government currently offers is “virtually impossible” to obtain and offers “little incentive” to builders. 

Peter Haslehurst, chairman of Luxfer Holdings PLC, has called for a new plan to redevelop Britain's industrial heritage wastelands, “breathing life into towns and cities while protecting green belt land threatened by current development projects”. 

Haslehurst describes how post-industrial brownfield sites are scattered throughout the country, particularly in the Midlands, the North West and the North East, yet new factories and houses are being built in the countryside, incurring the cost of new infrastructure while leaving urban centre sites to decay. 

“With this situation of land availability, why do we even think of building new towns outside existing conurbations?,” he argues. “The heavy cost of renovating and decontaminating our brownfield industrial sites, in a scenario of ever tightening environmental requirements, falls on the current incumbents of the site. Not only is this costly but it discourages new arrivals, making them prefer to build factories and houses on greenfield locations.” 

Haslehurst, whose company has spent more than £10m in the past decade on the environmental clean-up of sites it has taken over from other occupants, says there are currently no specific grants to help meet such costs. However, greater government support could help stimulate brownfield regeneration projects. 

Another obstacle to developing brownfield land concerns the requirement for indemnities and long-term insurance policies needed to cover future issues that may arise. In recent years, the duration of environmental insurance policies available on the market to cover such environmental liability has decreased and it is now impossible to obtain a policy for longer than ten years. Civitas stated. 

In conclusion, Haslehurst argued that if the costs of clearing up brownfield sites were genuinely met by central government, then developers would be eager to make profits on them. “Not only would the subsequent corporation tax flow to the Treasury, but many brownfield eyesores in towns and cities would disappear; the pressure for new roads, schools, public transport, shops, hospitals and other infrastructure to support new housing in green field areas would be eased; and, crucially, we would be investing in the future of our town and city centres and their communities,” he stated. 

Planning minister Nick Boles MP told PSE in a statement: “Freeing up brownfield land for new homes is a key priority for government. We’ve made it easier for existing buildings to be converted into homes, and made sure councils can set locally appropriate targets for using brownfield land.” 

He added that there is a comprehensive programme to bring empty homes back into use, and it is selling redundant government property, and have changed Community Infrastructure Levy rules to provide a greater incentive to use brownfield land. 

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