The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis have insisted that thousands of brownfield sites are available for development, and should be prioritised. This follows the UK Government’s announcement on 2 October that, if the Conservatives are elected next year, 100,000 new homes built on brownfield land for young first-time buyers will be available with a 20% discount.

The advice given to planning authorities  is to use their local plan to draw on protection in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) safeguarding their local area against urban sprawl, and protect the green lungs around towns and cities.

The Framework is clear that local planning authorities should, through their Local Plans, meet objectively assessed needs unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole, or specific policies in the Framework indicate development should be restricted. Such policies include those relating to sites protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives, and/or designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coast or within a National Park or the Broads; designated heritage assets; and locations at risk of flooding or coastal erosion.

The Framework makes clear that, once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan.

The key message from Government is that the Green Belt is to be protected and brownfield development is made easier through more flexible planning rights. This sounds like common sense however is in sharp contrast to the figures published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in August 2013. The figures indicated that over 150,000 houses plus commercial development had been approved on Green Belt land, an increase of 84% on 2012.

So what does this mean for groundwater and land contamination?

If the Green Belt is protected the groundwater catchment dynamics remain relatively unchanged and with a focus on brownfield redevelopment land contamination issues will eventually be addressed and groundwater quality protected. Should the proposed developments take place on Green Belt and existing potentially impacted sites are not rectified then we’d anticipate localised changes in groundwater conditions – levels and quality. These changes can be managed and may indeed prove beneficial however monitoring will be required to understand the potential impacts – positive or otherwise.

Whichever development route is taken consideration should be given to groundwater and land contamination not only on a site specific basis but also on a cumulative catchment scale.

To read more on the Government’s announcement click here to go to the Planning Portal.

You can sign up to receive the H2Ogeo Blog and keep up to date with groundwater and land contamination industry news by clicking here.