Brownfield sites are defined as land which has potential for redevelopment after previously being occupied by another permanent building, such as a factory or industrial works. Redeveloping brownfield sites is a cornerstone of the current national housing policy, with 79% of all new builds being built on recycled land in recent years.
Yet according to the research, over one in ten (11%) new homes built on brownfield land have suffered problems as a result of the land the property is built on, affecting a total of 74,000 homes in the last ten years. The most common problem is flooding, but there are also cases of contamination, poor drainage and sewage problems.
Brownfield hotspots likely to be developed in the near future include many urban parts of the North East, North West and West Midlands (such as Humberside, Greater Manchester and Birmingham), due to the density of former industrial activity in these areas. In the South, brownfield targets for housing development include parts of London Docklands and towns where former military land could be redeveloped for housing, such as Portsmouth.
One of the drivers behind the current policy encouraging house builders to redevelop land is the creation of affordable homes for first-time buyers. The research shows that few (17%) prospective buyers are actually specifically looking to buy new build housing, rather many feel that this is the only option available to them through local authority shared ownership schemes as many of these properties are new builds. Others say they are persuaded to buy new build homes because of incentives such as deposit cash back schemes from developers or free white goods.
Property developers and local authorities are responsible for ensuring brownfield land is safe for residential building, but there is evidence that problems slip through the net. According to the research, the former sites of heavy industrial processes such as iron smelting or coal mining are among the riskiest types of land to build on. Up to a fifth of all sites in England and Wales need treatment to be made safe for human habitation, meaning that in 2010 as many as 20,000 homes were built on land that was at one point contaminated by industrial waste.
Currently, over a third (34%) of prospective buyers are unaware of the problems associated with former industrial land and a quarter (24%) do not check the previous use of the land a house is built on. The insurer is advising potential buyers to check the previous use of the land a house is built on before committing to a purchase, by speaking to neighbours, checking old maps or commissioning a full environmental report to ensure they do not experience problems once they’ve moved in.
John O’Roarke, managing director of LV= home insurance, said
"It is vital that we continue to protect greenbelt land and that new uses can be found for brownfield sites, especially where there is a shortage of affordable housing. However, with many new properties being built on second-hand land, it’s vital that potential buyers carry out adequate checks to find out what their new property is built on so they are aware of the risks. Regardless of when the property is built, it’s always a good idea to get a structural survey when purchasing a property and to discuss any potential issues with their insurer to ensure they have adequate cover for their new home."
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