What’s the challenge?

How should we accommodate housing expansion? Should we be building on greenfield or brownfield land?

Brownfield land facts

  • Brownfield land is also known as previously developed land (PDL)
  • Real estate research firm Savills has been appointed to compile a so-called ‘Domesday Book’ of all brownfield public land in London, to be completed by the end of 2015.
  • Brownfield land is often contaminated and needs to be treated before building which can make it more expensive than greenfield sites

Green belt facts

  • Green belts protect the countryside from urban sprawl, prevent towns from merging into each other, protect country setting of historic towns and cities, and encourage regeneration of sites within towns and cities
  • 1955: Year the UK Government set out a national Green Belt policy in England
  • England’s 14 Green Belts cover over a tenth (13%) of the land. The largest is around London
  • 60% of the population lives in the urban areas within Green Belt boundaries
  • 4 square miles: Amount of Green Belt lost each year between 1997-2003 on average

Source: CPRE

Read about the Thames Gateway

Panel discussion

21st Century Challenges held a panel discussion on 13 May 2008 to discuss the issue.

Simon Jenkins , Columnist for The Guardian and Chairman of the National Trust
Simon Jenkins is a journalist and author. He writes for the Guardian and the Sunday Times, as well as broadcasting for the BBC. He has edited the Times and the London Evening Standard. In July 2008 Simon was named new Chairman of the National Trust.


Professor Sir Peter Hall (19 March 1932 – 30 July 2014), English Town Planner, Urbanist, Professor of Planning and Regeneration at UCL, President at the Town and Country Planning Association and the Regional Studies Association
Sir Peter Hall was the Bartlett Professor of Planning and Regeneration at The Bartlett, University College London and President of the Town and Country Planning Association. He was an internationally renowned authority on the economic, demographic, cultural and management issues that face cities around the globe and a key planning and regeneration adviser to successive governments.



Martin Crookston, Urban Economist at LSE, Town Planner at University of Glasgow, Director of Urban Studio and member of the UK Government’s Urban Task Force
Martin Crookston is an urban economist at London School of Economics and town planner at Glasgow University, and a director of Urban Studio, a team of urban planners, designers and researchers. He was a member of the UK Government’s Urban Task Force led by Lord Rogers of Riverside. He collaborated with Professor Sir Peter Hall on the major Four World Cities study of London, Paris, New York & Tokyo.



Wayne Hemingway is co-founder of fashion label Red or Dead and HemingwayDesign. After 21 consecutive seasons on the catwalk at London Fashion Week, he and his wife sold Red or Dead in a multi million cash sale in 1999. He then set up HemingwayDesign, joining forces with building firm Wimpy to work on various housing projects specialising in affordable and social design.

He is the Chairman of Building for Life, CABE (Commission for Architecture and The Built Environment) a funded organisation that promotes excellence in the quality of design of new housing. He is a Professor in the Built Environment department of Northumbria University, a writer for architectural and housing publications as well as a judge of international design competitions including the regeneration of Byker in Newcastle and Salford in Greater Manchester. Having received an MBE in the Queen’s 2006 Birthday List and being Chairman of the South Coast Design Forum, he believes in the supremacy of design, whether in clothes or in buildings.


Staiths South Bank housing development in Gateshead

Wayne Hemingway takes a tour of the Staiths South Bank housing development in Gateshead. Wayne is a member of the government Eco Towns Advisory Panel, who are advising on the new house building initiative. The Staiths South Bank, Gateshead was awarded the Silver Award by the Commission for the Built Environment (CABE). The development is at the eastern end of a formerly contaminated isolated site at Dunston Staiths, this development is the outcome of a mainstream housing developer’s response to designer Wayne Hemingway’s provocative criticism of the ‘Wimpeyfication’ of Britain by volume housebuilders.


Eco towns

In 2007, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, stressed the importance of new housing and revealed a role of eco-towns  in realising the target of 3 million new homes by 2020. The government introduced the speech Eco-Towns Challenge Panel – twelve experts from the worlds of design, the environment, transport and sustainability. The panel provided expert advice and highlighted the challenges. Designer Wayne Hemingway was on the panel:



Your questions

(00:00) Q1 Polls show people prefer to live in detached housing; should this be the priority, is this an affordable way to meet the UK’s housing demand? [5:54-6:22] [8:01-8:50] [12:29-13:18]

(00:37) Q2 What is more important; preventing damage to the countryside or preventing inadequate housing? [Unanswered]

(3:04) Q3 Do you not think we need to save countryside for recreation, flood damage control or carbon storage? [6:22-7:39]

(3:33) Q4 The relationship between housing and employment is being neglected; employment is being pushed into greenfield spaces on the edge of town, is this not damaging? [7:40-8:00] [10:43-12:28]

(4:20) Q5 Why are the UK so bad at providing public transport for new developments? [8:51-10:42]

(5:14) Q6 You said in ‘1991 10% of land in the UK was developed, in 2007 that was 19% of England’ can you clarify that? [Unanswered]

00:10) Q1 The churn rate is too high it is unsustainable. Do you agree? [Answer follows straight away]

(1:38) Comment: We should look at the urban planners of Europe; our moaning anti-town-planning culture is an issue that must be addressed.

(3:25) Q2 What will be the impact of town planning on communities? Has much research been done about it? [9:37-10:41]

(3:36) Q3 How can infrastructure cope with the increased demands of a growing commuter population? [Unanswered]

(4:13) Q4 How should the syndrome of developers getting planning consent but selling it rather than building on it be tackled? [Unanswered]

(4:51) Q5 The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit has said that British home owners are ‘aspirational’- how important do you think that fact is in determining house building plans? [Unanswered]

(5:38) Q6 Why is our house-building ability so poor? If we assume that 50% of housing demand will need to be on greenfield sites then what size of area will be required at say 30 dwellings per hectare? [Answer follows straight away]

(00:03) Comment: We need to be able to create high-density architecture which creates a good sense of community.

(00:46) Comment: Public infrastructure and green spaces should come first in developments as it does in Holland.

(1:17) Comment: It is not about not concreting the countryside it is about concreting it better.

(1:54) Q7 There is no vision in the East of England Plan and little provision for infrastructure – what is your vision? [Answer follows straight away]

(8:27-9:57) Comment on ‘Predict and provide’ housing idea

(9:58-10:58) Concluding comments: Discourse of the countryside

Further reading

Eco-house not ‘at home’: the crisis of post-political spatial planning, Geography Directions, 2013

Discover a dramatic transformation along the River Tyne in Gateshead with Discovering Britain

Manifestos General Election 2015: Cities and Housing, Geographical Magazine 2015