Previously developed land must be first choice for new homes

Laura White
Laura White
New homes built on greenfield land in Okehampton © CPRE

By Penny Mills

In this month’s column, Devon CPRE Director Penny Mills laments the waste of brownfield land that should be prioritised for affordable housing.

New housing is encroaching on Devon’s countryside the length and breadth of our beautiful county, yet Devon CPRE knows there’s a better alternative to this wanton destruction of our valuable farmland for development.

New research by the national countryside charity CPRE, shows previously developed or brownfield land could accommodate 1.3 million homes across the country but this resource is being largely ignored.

The research concludes that housing developers are ‘gorging on precious greenfield land with an ever-greater appetite’, despite ample space being available for more than a million new homes on previously developed sites across the country.

Our Devon branch of the charity actively campaigns to save green fields from being concreted over for housing, as we’ve seen happen in recent years around Okehampton, Tavistock and Bovey Tracey and other small market towns, not to mention the swathes of farmland being lost around our larger conurbations like Exeter.

Aside from the issues of the design, quality and affordability of many of these new builds (all subject matter for other columns in The Moorlander!), why are developers being allowed to eat up one of Devon’s most precious resources– its countryside – whilst brownfield land is left to go to waste?

Nationally, the proportion of brownfield housing units with planning permission is the lowest since records began, down to 44% in 2021 from 53% in 2020, and the actual number, at 506,000, is the lowest for four years. Simply put, this means developers are not proposing to develop anywhere near as many brownfield sites as they could and are building fewer new homes on these sites than they have in previous years. How depressing is that?

In most parts of the country, the amount of brownfield land available for new development has gone up too. In the South West, the picture is slightly more encouraging – but not much! The CPRE research shows that across the South West region there’s capacity in 2021 to build 68,081 units (houses) on previously developed land. Last year, the comparable figure was 69,355 units so a small percentage of brownfield land has been developed for housing since 2020. However, that’s still a tragic waste of potential building plots and we believe these brownfield sites should be used first before any further green fields are encroached on. Based on this data, the Government certainly can’t claim the use of brownfield land is being prioritised! Once again, the planning system is letting us down…
At the Conservative party conference in the autumn, the Prime Minister stated that no more development would take place on green fields.

We, at Devon CPRE, will be holding the Government to account and demanding an end to the unnecessary destruction of our countryside. How? By calling for new national planning policies to prioritise brownfield development in local plans. In all other areas of our daily lives, we are rightly encouraged to reduce, reuse and recycle, why should land use for housing and development be any different?

If you would like to support our work to protect the countryside for future generations and improve opportunities for those in rural communities, find out more at

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