There are over 130 privately-owned brownfield sites lying undeveloped in Leeds – with a capacity for nearly 20,000 new homes, according to data released by the local council.
But a Leeds City Council report accompanying the figures paints a gloomy picture of the prospects for significant development work getting under way on the majority of such sites.
The list of 133 sites (with scope for an estimated 19,486 homes) includes a large number where planning permission has expired, others where schemes have fallen through or developers have stopped communicating with the council, and others where the status is described as “not likely to progress in current climate”.
The report – prepared for a meeting next week of the council’s housing and regeneration scrutiny committee – gives a number of reasons for the dramatic fall-off in brownfield site house-building since pre-credit-crunch 2006, when 97% of all homes completed in the city were built on brownfield sites:
In the city centre, developers have found themselves unable to make their expected financial return on building flats on land bought at pre-crunch prices – and some of them have gone bust.
House-builders’ interest has moved away from non-central locations towards what the report describes as “edge-of-city opportunities” – a situation exacerbated by the council’s release last year of greenfield sites for housing developments following a series of costly defeats at planning tribunals.
And developers with planning permission for mixed use developments in the city centre are now looking at concentrating on the retail and commercial side rather than the residential.
“Financial viability” holding back development
In some cases landowners may be just waiting for the market to improve before offering a site up for development. But, the report notes, “financial viability is cited as the most common reason from developers for holding back development of brownfield sites”.
The council and government agencies are offering what help they can to stimulate house-building on brownfield sites in the city, the report says: the Homes and Communities Agency has funds, but they’re limited; the council has temporarily cut the requirement for affordable housing in most areas and has started to talk to developers about reduced S106 contributions; and it can occasionally give financial backing to key projects where there are “significant benefits to the city” such as the loan agreed in principle this month to kick start the Kirkstall Forge development…
And the report does raise the prospect, albeit vague, of linking greenfield and brownfield development:
“… consideration may need to be given to an approach that pragmatically connects greenfield development proposals to the development of brownfield sites in a way that enables developers to meet demand in outer areas whilst contributing to the development of previously used land and helping meet housing needs in inner areas,” it says, without going into any specifics.
But meanwhile …
“… the large scale of many viability issues for stalled sites cannot be overcome through these means alone and unless there is either a significant market uplift or a change in value expectations for developers seeking to recover the costs of land purchases made at the height of the market, there will be a continuing lack of an economic basis on which brownfield sites can be built out,” the report says.