Eric Pickles speaks to the Sitematch London 2015 conference

The Secretary of State addresses the Sitematch conference on increasing the level of housebuilding on brownfield land.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles

Let me start by congratulating the organisers for adding a bit of adventure to the business of selling land for development.

Sitematch is a brilliant concept. This is my second event, but last time my presence was virtual, so it’s a good to be here in person.

I’m not an expert, but I suspect speed-dating events do not normally pause for speeches about the importance of building on previously-developed land.

So let me assure you that my only intention is to enrich the romantic atmosphere.

I want the relationships formed today to endure and produce offspring – and by that I mean more development on brownfield land.

We need to significantly increase the level of housebuilding in this country, but we also need to ensure new homes are built in the right places, so we can preserve the green spaces that people treasure.

Anyone involved in development will know the public are passionate about this issue, and rightly so.

People want a say about what gets built in their area, and their clear preference is for development on brownfield land.

That’s a perfectly reasonable demand, but it’s not always an easy process.

Selling surplus land

That’s why this government has led by example.

We pledged to release enough formerly-used public sector land for 100,000 homes by 2015, and by the end of 2014 we’d sold enough land for nearly 98,000.

Some of these sites even got the speed-dating treatment at the Sitematch event in November 2012.

Old railway sidings in Bexhill-on-Sea, disused land in Barking town centre, or former hospital sites in Lancaster and Bristol.

These are just a few of the previously redundant sites now being used to provide homes, and we expect many more to follow.

At the Autumn Statement we announced plans to release enough land for a further 150,000 homes by 2020.

We’ll also be making it easier to access online information about government land and property, and from April the Homes and Communities Agency will become the default disposer of our surplus land, providing a more consistent and professional service.

Developing brownfield land

Of course the vast majority of brownfield sites are not owned by the government.

So we’re also helping local authorities develop similar sites in their area, with new measures to encourage the development of 200,000 homes.

Last month we announced the first shortlisted bids for the Housing Zones programme, which will develop 30 brownfield sites across the country, including 20 in London, with £600 million of public funding.

Local development orders will help this process, and the aim is to see planning permissions in place on more than 90% of suitable land by 2020.

Two weeks ago we announced a £4.4 million fund to help councils get this work underway, and new proposals to improve the collection and sharing of information, so developers and councils can see where the opportunities lie.

Planning reforms, cutting red tape and investment

Releasing brownfield land is vital, but it is only one part of the story.

We also need a responsive planning system and a business-friendly environment.

Planning processes should be locally-controlled, and not overburdened with red tape and regulations, and the right infrastructure must be in place to encourage investment.

Unfortunately the top-down, bureaucratic planning system we inherited from the previous Administration met none of these requirements.

Regional strategies failed to deliver an adequate level of housebuilding, and dismissed the public’s desire to protect their green belt and local countryside.

That’s why we wasted no time abolishing them, and radically reforming the planning system.

Councils and communities are now in control – because they are best-placed to make decisions about their planning and housing needs.

We simplified national planning policy to just 50 pages, and transformed 7,000 pages of planning guidance into an accessible on-line guide.

More than 700,000 new homes have now been delivered since 2010.

Housebuilding is at its highest since 2007, and the performance of the reformed planning system is constantly improving.

  • in the year to September councils gave planning permissions for 240,000 homes
  • planning decisions are being made faster, and 4 out of 5 councils have published a Local Plan, compared to less than a third when we came to power
  • neighbourhood planning is capturing the imagination of communities across the country – 45 successful referendums have already been held, and over 1,300 communities are in the process of preparing their plan

Local people are getting involved because they know their plans carry real weight, and they can steer development towards the right locations.

Under the new planning system more than two thirds of all homes are being built on brownfield land.

But we recognise more needs to be done, and we need to match reform with investment if we’re to build the number of homes we need.

Programmes such as Get Britain Building, the Large Sites Infrastructure Fund and Builders Finance Fund are helping by investing billions to unlock stalled housing schemes.

The smallest developments with as few as 5 homes are now being supported, and they are often brownfield sites.

So far schemes with more than 100,000 new homes have been unlocked, and more bids are coming through the pipeline.

We’re also using government investment through our Affordable Housing and Housing Zones programmes to support new technology, such as cutting-edge offsite manufacture.

Brownfield sites are often in built-up areas, where small plots and busy streets are a perfect match for these techniques.

Well-designed homes can be finished quickly, and with the minimum amount of fuss or noise for local residents – vital for increasing public support for new homes.

  • prioritising brownfield land for development
  • local control of the planning system
  • cutting red tape and increasing investment in housebuilding

These priorities have guided our approach to fix the broken housing market we inherited in 2010, and we will stick to them.

Housebuilding is increasing, councils and communities are getting their local and neighbourhood plans in place, and attitudes towards new development are clearly changing.

The most recent British Social Attitudes survey found support for new homes has already risen dramatically, from 28% in 2010 to 47% in 2013.

It shows that when local people have a real say over development, they are more likely to welcome it.

More progress still needs to be made; especially by increasing development on brownfield land, but I am confident that by working together we can overcome the challenges that lie ahead.

And build more houses for the benefit of hard-working families, while protecting the precious green spaces the British public treasures.

Thank you

Published 11 February 2015