Brownfield land is being squandered in 'developer's paradise' of York - Rachael Maskell

Before asking what is being built on the green belt, we have to ask what is being built on brownfield sites. In York’s case, it is assets for investors rather than homes for families and communities.

CPRE estimates that more than 26,000 hectares of UK brownfield land are available for development—enough to build a million homes. Between 2006 and 2016, the proportion of brownfield land used for residential development dropped by 38 per cent, whereas building on greenfield land increased by a staggering 148 per cent. Public money is invested in the remediation of brownfield sites, while the owners land bank before declaring the unviability of any affordable or social housing. It is a complete scam.

Until the Government turn planning on its head, landowners and developers will continue to game the system, using every means possible to derive huge profits from urban brownfield sites by delivering high-priced investor units that do not meet local need and exceed local affordability.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In York, again and again, this has meant that scarce land is used for the development of properties for the investment market, student accommodation or hotel rooms, leaving local housing need unmet and pressure to develop the green belt – a developer’s paradise.

Rachael Maskell is concerned about development plans in York. Picture: Anna GowthorpeRachael Maskell is concerned about development plans in York. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe
Rachael Maskell is concerned about development plans in York. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe

Just last week, the Lib Dem-Green York Council agreed yet another multipurpose development, including an 88-room aparthotel and 153 new apartments, more than half of which will be bedsits and will immediately flip into holiday lets. There will not be a single affordable unit. That mirrors a long succession of planning decisions in our ancient city.

In York Central, Government agencies are planning to use 45 hectares of brownfield land for the delivery of 2,500 units that are unsuitable and unaffordable for local families, thereby wasting the land and pushing vital economic and housing development to the green belt.

Every hectare of brownfield land that is squandered for extractive profits puts another hectare of green belt under threat. On each of these new developments, large swathes of properties move to the second home market immediately after completion. Some are never occupied, and many turn into Airbnbs. The revenue pays the mortgage while the asset gains value, pushing up house prices even more and making them completely inaccessible to local people.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Meanwhile, in York, thousands of families are waiting for a home that they simply want to call their own. We cannot pretend that there is any gain for local people; demand is outstripping supply, driving up property value but never delivering the homes people need. They are being driven out of their city to some greenfield site miles away. That impacts the local economy too, with people on the lowest incomes having to make the longest commutes, involving costs they cannot afford.

Greenfield demand is a consequence of failed planning, and I fear that greater liberalisation is on its way. The Government are going in completely the wrong direction. Unbelievably, Dartmoor, the North York Moors and the New Forest are set to fall within the boundaries of freeports and urban centres’ investment zones, free from planning restrictions. The developers’ charter is back, but without a people’s charter for public land for public good, we will never meet housing need.

York is plagued with applications for green-belt development, but brownfield land must not be squandered at the expense of our green belt. We cannot stand by when people have nowhere to live. This is not an urban versus rural debate, but one between those who extract profit and those wanting to protect communities. Working together to ensure that brownfield sites are developed for local need will protect the green belt. The Government need to decide which side they are on.

Rachael Maskell is Labour MP for York Central. This is an edited version of a speech given during a recent Westminster Hall debate.

Related topics: