Brownfield Vs. Greenfield


Statistics suggest that the UK needs to build at least 250,000 new homes a year to keep up with ever growing demand[1]. In the first quarter of 2017, 43,170 homes were started and 39,520 were completed[2], a 21% increase upon the previous year, but not nearly enough to meet the demand[3].

The effect is that this is pushing up house prices and not fulfilling the needs of the country’s inhabitants. Moreover, the UK has one of the toughest planning policies in the world, and therefore getting planning permission to develop on any site is lengthy and slows down the overall development pipeline. A recent study[4] showed that only 5.9% of the UK is described as ‘built on[5].’ Nearly three quarters of England is designated ‘farmland’ and yet just 17.6% of England’s population reside in rural areas[6].

Green-field property investment occurs on sites which have not previously been built on, such as green belt land which accounts for 13% of undeveloped land. Brown-field property investment occurs when an entity purchases disused or derelict land/property to build a new development. This may also involve re-zoning e.g. from commercial or industrial to residential or mixed use property. The government are aware of the demand for housing for first-time buyers, but are prioritising countryside protection, aiming to give 90% of brownfield sites planning permission for new homes by 2020.[7]

Local councils are keen to regenerate older derelict buildings and sites into useable properties, so it is easier to get planning permission for property development on brownfield sites. Development on greenfield sites is restricted because it provides a buffer zone between towns and also preserves the local countryside, and therefore local councils promote development on brownfield sites within urban areas instead[8]. However, the need for decontamination and site clearance on brownfield sites increases the budget and development window, hence more pressure is being placed on local councils to start loosening control over property development procedures for greenfield sites.

The following looks at the pro’s and con’s of developing on brownfield vs greenfield sites.


Pro’s of Development:

• Are valuable, as existing buildings may be able to be split up into more homes/units on any one site • Reduces urban sprawl as it uses previously developed land and/or buildings • Transforms unsightly buildings into modern properties • Are generally found in urban or suburban areas, so redevelopment in these areas reduces demand for car use and therefore may have an air quality benefit • Often this can be cheaper land and so reduces purchase costs, so obtaining property funds is easier

Con’s of Development:

• Clearing the land of its previous property development can be expensive • In close proximity of other utility and infrastructure which can appeal aspects of its development and limit its potential


Pro’s of Development:

• Can be cheaper to build on as less site clearance may be needed • Often the development build phase does not interfere with local residents as no densely urban areas are close by • Since building is from scratch it can implement new, more efficient layout plans • There is the opportunity to create a healthier environment for locals to live in

Con’s of Development:

• It may encourage more traffic congestion as locals commute from urban areas to the countryside • Could promote urban sprawl and result in the joining up of cities without sufficient green spaces • May endanger wildlife and has a negative impact on farming • Developments could be built on floodplains and other sites where environmental disasters are more prone, which could be devastating for inhabitants

As you can see, there is no cut and dry answer. Understandably, greenfield sites need to be protected, as over-development can be devastating for rural communities. The Countryside Alliance are conscious of the need to build countryside homes, arguing that growth needs to occur organically so the current inhabitants are not overwhelmed[4]. However, with the increase in demand for housing and the limited supply of available brownfield sites, pressure will move to developing on the outskirts of cities.

A compromise must be found as cities can only accommodate for a limited number of people. To do this, sustainable development is a necessity. No longer should buildings purely cater for their inhabitants; they must also protect the future of the environment, by building greener homes and reducing waste and damage to the environment during the construction process. Since 2004, Sainsbury’s has planted 2.2 million trees, worthy of four Sherwood Forests[9], and the cement sector is aiming for an 81% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. By examining every aspect of the development process, from planning to construction materials, we can mitigate much of the unwanted impact on the surrounding environment.

This would lessen the debate over whether greenfield v brownfield sites are more appropriate and instead it would encourage sustainable development which would be of benefit for both inhabitants and the surrounding environment. The Head of Policy at Shelter, Roger Harding, suggests building more garden cities, such as Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes[4].

To conclude, whilst it is important to constantly iterate upon and invest in property on unused brownfield sites, we should be conscious that in places of uncontrollable urban growth, investing in property opportunities on greenfield sites may provide the strongest solution to alleviate the lack of housing. One of the biggest barriers to constructing on greenfield sites is its detrimental impact on the environment, so we should strive to change our approach to developing land by investing in projects which can cater for all, both the human and the physical landscape.


1: Shelter

2: CORINE Land Cover

3: BBC / How Much Of Your Area Is Built On?

4: Department for Communities and Local Government

5: Telegraph / Number Of New Homes Built At Highest Level

6: Telegraph / Countryside Population To Increase Dramatically

7: Hanne / How To Tackle The Housing Crisis

8: Campaign To Protect Rural England / Green Belts

9: Great Business Debate / 8 Ways Business Helping To Protect The Environment

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