Using brownfield housing funds to boost levelling-up

One of the most encouraging announcements at this year’s Spending Review was the £1.8bn to help deliver homes on brownfield sites. This consists of £300m for locally led projects and a further £1.5bn for housing infrastructure. The NHC has consistently backed the existing £400m brownfield housing fund – £276m of which was allocated directly to Northern local authorities – and called for its extension in our Spending Review representation.

The announcement of new funds presents a great chance to boost levelling-up. Housing on brownfield sites can deliver on many of the Government’s levelling-up priorities: restoring pride by tackling eyesore sites, creating opportunity through jobs in remediation and construction, and boosting living standards by creating new homes for sale and rent that cost less to run. If the funds are structured in the right way, they can empower local leaders and communities to get homes built on sites that make sense in the context of local economic opportunities.

So where are these sites, and how should the fund be structured?

Analysis of brownfield registers for the NHC’s Northern Housing Monitor finds over 5,000 sites across the North, of over 7,500 hectares: which together could generate over 300,000 homes –more than a city the size of Leeds. This land can’t meet all the North’s diverse housing needs, but can make an important contribution to housing supply and levelling-up.

Three-quarters of this Northern brownfield housing capacity – over 230,000 homes worth – is located in districts covered by Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCA). That’s why we think it’s important that the new funds have a strong MCA component. Recognising that these areas have already benefitted from the first round of the Fund, we think something like 2/3 of the new funding should be allocated through MCAs. The current Fund has made a real difference in MCA areas across the Northit’s clear that it’s working. Let’s empower local leaders to get more done.

For councils outside MCA arrangements, there has been a national brownfield release fund run on a competitive basis by One Public Estate (OPE). However less than 10% of the funding allocated to date from OPE for brownfield land has come to the North, and almost half of this (£2.4m) was for a single site in the City of York. Four other districts in the North also accessed this funding, but other NHC members tell us they deterred by restrictions on how this fund could be accessed and used.

NHC analysis suggests almost 20% of the North’s brownfield housing capacity – space for 60,000 homes – is located in local authorities which have not so far been able to access either MCA or OPE brownfield funding. These places need a solution, and that’s why the NHC think that – alongside direct funding for MCA areas – there needs to be an accessible route for Northern councils outside MCA arrangements to access funding to cover the additional costs associated with developing on brownfield land, such as remediation and demolition.

We’re also keen to press the case for a revenue element to funding. Every brownfield site is different, and progressing them needs attention from skilled staff, and lots of persistence and determination. With the North having lost half its local authority housing capacity since 2010, providing ‘boots on the ground’ will be an important part of a successful programme.

The NHC is engaging with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on this issue. There’s lots of technical detail to work through, but it’s also clear there’s a real opportunity to build on the success of the existing brownfield fund and use this fresh investment to boost levelling-up. Let’s do it.