The brownfield myth

In the world of doublespeak that passes for developer-led planning words don’t mean what they appear to mean. For instance, a lot of folk fall for the ‘affordable home’ pitch. Yet almost all the houses for sale as ‘affordable’ are in reality unaffordable for the lowest quartile of earners in Cornwall.

Then there’s the big lie. ‘Sustainability’, and with it the notion of handing on our planet in a fit state for future generations, has been thoroughly corrupted. It’s taken just five years of the National Planning Policy Framework to render the word totally vacuous. It’s now applied to any planning application by cynical planning agents, no matter where. If houses can be built, the site miraculously becomes ‘sustainable’.

Let’s not forget the confusion between ‘homes’ and ‘houses’. It’s no coincidence that the House Builders Federation renamed itself the Home Builders Federation a few years back. No self-respecting politician will ever let the word house pass their lips these days. It’s always ‘home’. ‘Home’ brings with it cosier images – childhood, security, nostalgia.

You can call a wolf a sheep but it’s still a wolf. Homes do NOT get built; houses do. And a house is NOT automatically a home. A house can be left empty, used for a holiday let, sold to second house buyers, become part of Tony Blair’s £27 million property portfolio. There’s a difference between a house and a home, although it’s not one they care to dwell on.

Finally, we have a potential developers’ scam that many, otherwise sensible, souls seem to be all too easily suckered into. Let’s build all these houses on brownfield land rather than green fields, they tell us. This is as bad as the other redefinitions.

Brownfield land conjures up images of derelict factory sites, rusting warehouses or demolished housing. But in practice it merely means any site that has been at some point developed, excluding farm buildings. It may or may not be contaminated. It may or may not still have buildings on it. The planning definition is in fact rather loose.

A 'greenfield' site? Not according to Cornwall Council, which describes Penpol, Hayle as a 'brownfield' site in its SHLAA. As most of it is ploughed up I suppose it's brown!

A ‘greenfield’ site? Not according to Cornwall Council, which describes Penpol, Hayle as a ‘brownfield’ site in its SHLAA. As most of it is ploughed up I suppose it’s brown!

In Cornwall, blanket calls to build only on brownfield land are short-sighted. We don’t have a large area of genuinely derelict industrial sites. But we do have lots of sites where mining and other industrial activity last took place decades ago, even a century or more ago. These are often contaminated or contain shafts or other hazards and can therefore still be defined as brownfield land. Yet to the untrained eye they now look like green fields.

It’s worse than that. The Council’s own Sustainability Appraisal (p.48) points out that brownfield sites ‘can often be more biologically diverse, or can provide a niche habitat for rare species’. In the Cornish context simplistic calls for building on ‘brownfield’ rather than ‘greenfield’ sites are entirely misplaced. In fact, they are often likely to have a more disastrous effect on natural habitats than building on agri-industrial farmland, where pesticide use has already done much to cull wildlife.

Similarly, those who focus on protecting designated land only (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the like) lose sight of the bigger picture. By doing so they are effectively calling for all the unnecessary housing to be located in places such as Camborne-Redruth. This merely reserves the coastal spots for the Lifestyle Cornwall project, second home buyers and richer in-migrants.

So please don’t fall for the false choice provided by brownfield rather than greenfield and the spurious idea that somehow all our problems would be solved if we just built on brownfield land (which in practice turns out to be ratherr elusive). It’s just another case of planning doublespeak, just another way of setting one community against another. Instead, question every site and question why Cornwall ‘needs’ so many more houses in proportion to its resident population than does anywhere else in the UK.

This entry was posted in discourses and ideologies, environment and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The brownfield myth

  1. Toffer says:

    The government don’t care about affordable homes for the peasants


  2. Dick Wells says:

    Well stated and in other words. trust no one in local or national government and least of all the developers. We must check it out ourselves.


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