Digital Fields of Brown

Brownfield land registers(1) were introduced in 2017 as a way of providing up-to-date and consistent information on previously developed sites that are appropriate for residential development.

Local planning authorities (LPAs) are required to prepare, maintain and publish registers of previously developed land, and review their registers at least once a year.

LPAs are also required to prepare and publish their registers in line with a data standard(2).  This involves completing a spreadsheet with information on a set of attributes, such as site address and site area, for each site.

The data standard guidance states that “it is essential that the registers published by LPAs are consistent and published in an open data format to ensure that they can be aggregated by users of the data”.

However, after reviewing several brownfield land registers, most LPAs enter data incorrectly; for example, the data is stored in the wrong place, and additional data is provided but not required. This is despite clear guidance notes published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

A further drawback is that there is no straightforward way of downloading all brownfield registers in one go. The Government’s open data website(3) allows you to search for brownfield registers, but only on an individual local authority basis; and in some cases, brownfield registers are not available, so the local authority website has to be checked.

Given that there are over 300 local authorities, it would be a time-consuming exercise to gather all registers. It is helpful if you are a developer only looking for sites in one local authority, but not helpful if you are looking to aggregate the data for analysis, which was the intention of the data standard in the first place.

Despite its current drawbacks, the data standard is an excellent idea and it should be applied to other plans and policies, so data can be aggregated nationally for spatial analysis and information purposes. For example, there is no consistent national data available on made neighbourhood plans, local development orders, and housing market areas; and with the introduction of statements of common ground(4), there is the opportunity for a data standard that records the administrative areas covered by the statement, the housing requirements and distribution of needs in the statement area, and where unmet housing needs are being met.
MHCLG should therefore explore other opportunities for data standards and consider putting more regulations in place to get consistent and comprehensive data from local planning authorities.

·Robert Hayward is a Principal Planner at David Lock Associates. The views expressed are personal.