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Half a Million New Homes to be Built on Hazardous 'Second-hand' Land in Next Decade

Press release: 23/03/2011

  • Half a million homes built on ‘second-hand’ land over the next decade at risk of flooding or contamination [1]
  • One in ten [2] homes built on brownfield sites have had problems as a result of the land they are built on
  • 74,000 new build homes have been adversely affected by the land they were built on in the past ten years [3]

Over the next decade around half a million homes will be built on redeveloped ex-industrial sites that could pose risks to homeowners and their homes.

A new report from home insurer LV= reveals that around 125 million square metres [4] of redeveloped brownfield land, earmarked for the building of 500,000 homes, is potentially at risk of flooding or contamination, which could cost homeowners thousands of pounds to address.

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% [5] of all new builds being built on recycled land in recent years.

Yet according to the LV= 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 [6].

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 LV= 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 [7]. According to LV=’s 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 [8].

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. LV= 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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About LV=

LV= is a registered trademark of Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society Limited (LVFS) and a trading style of the Liverpool Victoria group of companies.

LV= employs around 4,500 people, serves over four million customers and members, and manages around £8.0bn (as at 31 December 2010) on their behalf, via LV= Asset Management (LVAM). We are also the UK’s largest friendly society and a leading mutual financial services provider.

LVFS is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority, register number 110035. LVFS is a member of the ABI, the AFM and ILAG. Registered address: County Gates, Bournemouth BH1 2NF.


Research into brownfield sites was conducted by chartered surveyor Ian Rock MRICS (Zennor Consultants) for LV= insurance.

Additional research was conducted by Opinium research. Opinium carried out an online survey of 500 owners of ‘new build’ properties (properties built from 2000 onwards), 240 of whose properties have been built on ‘redeveloped’ land from 9 to 13 March 2011. Results have been weighted to nationally representative criteria.

There are 26.2million households in the UK. Source: Household projections from 2006 onwards, ONS. All grossed up figures in this press release are based on this source.

[1] Ian Rock MRICS - ‘Brownfield Housing Development Report’. Based on ABI and Environment Agency figures, it is likely that up to 500,000 homes will be built on brownfield floodplains and/or former contaminated sites over the next 10 years.

[2] According to Opinium research amongst new build home owners living on brownfield land.

[3] According to Opinium research, there are 26.2 million households in the UK (Source:ONS) of which 680,603 are new build homes built on brownfield sites. Of this total, 10.8% suffered problems to their property as a result of the land their home is built on = 73,732.

[4] Ian Rock MRICS – ‘Brownfield Housing Development Report’. Based on ABI and Environment Agency figures, it is likely that up to 500,000 homes will be built on former contaminated sites over the next 10 years. HCA figures show that housing densities on brownfield land average 40 dwellings per hectare. Therefore 500,000/40 = 12,500 hectares = 125,000,000 square metres.

[5] Ian Rock MRICS – ‘Brownfield Housing Development Report’. Latest HCA figures (2008) show 79% of new housing was built on brownfield land.

[6] According to Opinium research amongst homeowners of new build properties on brownfield land.

[7] Case study from Ian Rock MRICS – ‘Brownfield Housing Development Report’. A legal dispute over the quality of brownfield land is currently in progress between councils and homeowners in Motherwell, Scotland, where toxic chemicals have been found on land under a 400-home estate that was formerly the site of an electrical engineering factory.

[8] Ian Rock MRICS – ‘Brownfield Housing Development Report’. According to the Environment Agency, 2005, between 5-20% of sites in England & Wales may require action to ensure that unacceptable risks to human health and the environment are mitigated. Taking a maximum figure of 20%, it is reasonable to assume that of the 100,000 UK homes built on brownfield land in 2010, as many as 20,000 are on former contaminated areas.