A recent landmark Council motion to Protect the Green Belt and Bristol’s Green Spaces, was approved with cross-party support and no dissensions. As a result, vital green spaces within Bristol now have additional protection, in line with the City’s declarations of Climate and Ecological Emergencies, the recently published Ecological Emergency Action Plan and the new Environment Act 2021.
However, a consequence of the adoption of this motion is that there is greater pressure to develop on other sites. Those advocating development on open spaces within Bristol have begun, arbitrarily and without proper justification, to declare such open spaces to be brownfield. To inaccurately describe a development site as brownfield places Development Committee members under undue pressure to approve a planning application when, as greenfield, a site should fall under the additional protection engendered by the landmark motion.
Recent examples (see below) where the term brownfield has been misused are the Bristol Zoo Gardens car park on College Rd, Clifton and the Baltic Wharf Caravan Park on the Floating Harbour in Hotwells, each of which have been mislabelled as brownfield sites despite not falling within with the recognised legal definition.
The term brownfield site is used to describe certain types of previously developed land. Most dictionary definitions refer to this land as being currently or previously occupied by a permanent structure which generally includes the potential for contamination. In planning law there is a definition which must apply when considering planning proposals. This is detailed in the National planning policy framework (NPPF – called ‘Previously developed land’, p.70) as:
“Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure…. and any associated fixed surface infrastructure”.
The definition excludes land which is maintained as a garden:
“….. land in built-up areas such as residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and allotments…“
In addition to the definition, there is a statutory requirement for local authorities to maintain an up to date register of brownfield sites which are appropriate for development:
“Regulation 3 of the Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017 requires local planning authorities in England to prepare, maintain and publish registers of previously developed (brownfield) land”.
“Brownfield land registers will provide up-to-date and consistent information on sites that local authorities consider to be appropriate for residential development having regard to the criteria set out in regulation 4 of the Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017.”
“Regulation 17 requires local planning authorities to review their registers at least once a year“.
The Town and Country Planning act also addresses the situation where a fragment of the site might be considered brownfield, but other parts of the curtilage is green space:
“Greenfield land is not appropriate for inclusion in a brownfield land register. Where a potential site includes greenfield land within the curtilage, local planning authorities should consider whether the site falls within the definition of previously developed (brownfield) land in the National Planning Policy Framework. Where it is unclear whether the whole site is previously developed land, only the brownfield part of the site should be included in Part 1 of the register and considered for permission in principle”.
Mislabelling as brownfield examples in recent planning applications
Bristol Zoo Gardens car park, College Rd, Clifton (21/01999/F)
The planning proposal makes the statement “The application site is brownfield, previously developed land, as it is a car park“. Mayor Marvin Rees similarly defined the site in a subsequent tweet criticising some members of the Development Committee for voting against the proposal.
This site fails to comply with the proper planning definition of a brownfield site. In relation to the NPPF definition, 7.4% of the site is occupied by buildings whereas tree canopy covers about 17% of the site. Much of the site is covered by unfixed surface, which does not qualify under the definition of a brownfield site. Therefore, according to the Town and Country Planning Act only 7.4% of the site could be considered brownfield, with the remaining 92.6% being classified as greenfield. The site does not appear on the Council’s register of brownfield sites, and therefore cannot legally be classified as such.
Baltic Wharf Caravan Park (21/01331/F)
This planning proposal has also been inappropriately described as a brownfield site in the planning application. Only 2.6% of the site is occupied by a permanent structure, whereas the 100 trees that occupy this site cover over 30% of its area. Thus, only 2.6% of the site could possibly be defined as brownfield, with the remaining 97.4% falling under the classification of greenfield. Furthermore, as much of the site is maintained as a “residential garden”, the site is exempt from the NPPF definition. This site, also, is absent from the necessarily up-to-date register of brownfield sites.
Whilst there may be arguments to develop some parts of some of these sites, the existing trees should be retained in order to comply with Local Planning Policy BCS9. The current approach of flattening all trees, including those on the edge of the site results in third rate developments. Instead, new developments should be built around existing trees.
If you agree that this mislabelling should stop, please sign this petition to protect Bristol’s green spaces from the Council’s mislabelling of them as “brownfield sites”: