Greenfield SitesGreenfield sites are areas of land, usually agricultural or amenity land, which are being considered for urban development.

This is a highly contentious issue, particularly in the UK, where the development of land is split between Greenfield and brownfield sites.

It becomes contentious, and political, due to a limited amount of physical space available, competing with an expanding population that needs housing.

Look at our webpage Brownfield Sites for an explanation of the different factors concerning brownfield sites, their particular suitability or otherwise for development, and new eco-technologies for converting them back.

All sides of the debate acknowledge that there is a housing crisis within the UK, but politicians, academics and campaigners disagree as to how it could be resolved. The Government has identified a need to find land for 4.4 million new housing units in England and Wales (figures for Scotland have not yet been identified) by 2016.

Effects Upon Greenfield Sites of Development

  • Once land has been converted to development, it is unlikely to ever be converted back to Greenfield use
  • Destruction of the natural habitat of some animal and plant species
  • Loss of agricultural land results in loss of production and loss of employment
  • Reduction of or complete loss of amenity or recreation value
  • Negative effect upon transport and energy use
  • Loss of the green belt of agricultural or designated wildlife land, that clearly defines and separates areas of difference, be they cities, towns, suburbs, villages or hamlets of housing

This is a package of negative effects upon the Greenfield site and potentially the surrounding areas, if the site is used for building development.

A Recent Example

Early in the 1990’s it seemed as though the British Government was putting emphasis on the development of brownfield sites, and the preservation of brownfield sites.

Now the Government, led by economic planning and forecasts, are saying that the use of brownfield sites for development will not be enough, and more land is needed.

In the recent example of the plan to expand London’s boundaries by 40 miles along the Thames into Kent, Essex and Bedfordshire, (August 2003), the Government Minister responsible made the case for 200,000 new homes, and the potential creation of 300,000 new jobs, all to be built on a combination of Greenfield and brownfield sites. Campaigners argue that the Government in announcing this plan, had not stuck to their initial promises, and had in fact passed over potential brownfield sites, and that further development up the M11 toward Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes, also mentioned in the Government plan, would have no choice but to use greenfield land. Creating satellite towns from one large or capital city urban conurbation diminishes local cultural identity, without safeguarding employment, or rural safety, or community values.

A Sustainable Future

There are many examples of small-scale development use of Greenfield sites. These might for instance take part of a piece of agricultural land for construction, but on the other piece, enhance its agricultural status, by converting it for organic agriculture, or small-scale farming, or for the production of plants to convert to bio-fuel, or for the creation of a wildlife habitat, that did not already exist.

There are Greenfield sites that are not being used for any purpose, for whatever reason. Development must consider all human and environmental factors, not just consume land and space for short-term solutions. A sustainable vision would look at all the options for land use, human population expansion, urban sprawl, economic considerations as well as environmental needs.