Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Understanding the difference between brownfield and greenfield land is essential if you're interested in property development, or if you want to buy or sell land. Brownfield and greenfield are terms for two distinct types of land. Whether you're buying brownfield or greenfield land could affect the valuation of the land as well as how easy it is to develop.
Let's explore the differences between brownfield and greenfield land and consider how land development differs between these two types of sites.
What is brownfield vs greenfield land?
Brownfield land is essentially just land that has been previously built on, while greenfield land is land that hasn't been built on. Generally, brownfield land is more commonly found in towns and cities and greenfield land is often located in the countryside, although this isn't always the case. A lot of greenfield land is used for agricultural purposes, although some other common types of greenfield sites include moorland, forestry land, and wild land. For developers interested in buying land, greenfield land is often cheaper to buy than brownfield land. This is because it is harder to gain Planning Permission on. If you're selling land, both brownfield and greenfield sites offer a number of benefits to prospective buyers. Brownfield land may be easier to secure planning on, but the site will have more constraints as it may be smaller and surrounded by buildings. Greenfield land may be harder to get secure Planning, but it will generally be larger allowing the developer to plan their scheme more easily.
Are greenfield and brownfield sites used for different purposes?
In most cases, greenfield and brownfield sites can be used for similar applications, although the challenges to developing them for these uses might be different.
If you're buying land to use as farmland or to build a paddock for horses or similar applications, greenfield land is a far better choice as it will be cheaper whilst the Local Authority will usually be supportive of this type of Application. The soil quality will likely be higher and the location more appropriate. Developers buying land to develop commercially often consider both greenfield and brownfield sites. It's possible to develop homes, apartment blocks, offices, and other commercial properties on both greenfield and brownfield land, but both options come with their own drawbacks. It's also worth considering the location of the land you're buying: in many cases, greenfield sites are located further from urban centres, making them less desirable to both homeowners and businesses.
How does land development differ between brownfield and greenfield land?
The process of developing land on brownfield and greenfield sites is somewhat similar, but the obstacles you're likely to find most challenging are different for each. Greenfield land is cheaper to buy than brownfield land, but this is because it may require more work to develop. Environmental groups are putting increasing pressure on local councils to protect greenfield land, which means that obtaining planning permission on such land is getting harder and harder every year. However, if you can obtain planning permission for a greenfield site, the development from this stage is relatively smooth because there are no existing buildings to clear away or potential hazards to work around. Likewise, brownfield sites are an attractive option for many developers. It's usually much easier to obtain planning permission for brownfield sites because development on brownfield land usually meant transforming old, derelict sites into properties that add value to urban centres. However, brownfield land costs more to buy initially and carries higher risk. The development process usually involves clearing away derelict buildings from the land and working around existing infrastructure such as water pipes, sewer lines, and electricity lines. The unpredictability of this process means that construction can take longer than it does on greenfield sites, and the duration of a project is much harder to estimate accurately in advance.
Greenfield vs brownfield: which is better?
There is no clear answer to this question. Most of the time, it depends on the goals, resources, and expertise of the developer buying the land. Developers keen to maximise profit might find greenfield sites more attractive, and yet brownfield sites offer a more direct route to development - and a better location - for many projects.
Contact NFC Homes
Over the past 20 years, we have successfully delivered more than 1,500 new homes and commercial developments. Contact NFC Homes to find out more about selling land and developing property on both brownfield and greenfield sites across the UK.