What is a greenfield site?

Key information
  • A greenfield site is a plot that hasn’t been developed or built on
  • Greenfield sites offer more freedom for design and expansion
  • They require new infrastructure and receive more planning objections

As the population continues to grow, current estimates are that the UK will need to build more than 300,000 homes a year by 2030 to keep up with demand. And with urban environments becoming ever more crowded, many property developers are turning their attention to greenfield opportunities instead.

But there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions over greenfield developments, from their environmental impact to the costs involved. In this guide, we’ll take you through exactly what building on greenfield means and what the benefits are.

What exactly is greenfield?

Greenfield land is pretty easy to understand. Usually rural, this is undeveloped land that's never been built on before. This is the opposite of brownfield land, which is formerly developed and now disused or derelict, like an old industrial site.

It's often assumed that greenfield developments only come from the greenbelt areas around cities, or from building on natural beauty spots. But greenfield doesn't necessarily mean greenbelt. Most of the time these sites are agricultural land that has been earmarked for development - in fact, you can even find greenfield land inside cities, although it is rare by comparison. 

The benefits of greenfield development

One of the biggest reasons to build on greenfield sites is the cost. Brownfield sites are usually cheaper to buy initially, but the previous development means they need to be cleared before building can begin.

That can mean removing anything from industrial waste and rubble, to existing structures or even toxic contaminants. That adds a significant amount to construction costs, and often the full price of preparing a brownfield development doesn't become clear until it starts. But with virgin greenfield, there's little risk of blowing your budget just clearing up the plot.

Greenfield land also tends to offer greater flexibility in terms of how and what you build. You’re not hemmed in by neighbouring buildings - as you would with an urban development - and this means the only constraint is your budget and the amount of land you buy. Plus, being surrounded by open space means you have a blank canvas to expand the development in the future.

That flexibility can extend to your building design and architecture choices too. While the Local Planning Authority might specify some elements like the type of foundation, you won't have to worry about making your project fit the same building footprint or aesthetic as a previous structure. 

Things to consider

One of the most common problems greenfield developments come up against is objections from the planning authorities and the local community. These can come from all corners, from environmental issues about the loss of natural habitats to concerns about the pressure of more commuter traffic on local roads.

There are also a few issues that stem from the fact that greenfield plots are often rural. The first is that they can lack the necessary infrastructure like road access and utilities that comes with an urban development, and which is costly to set up from scratch.

The second is that a rural building project can run into problems like soil quality, terrain, flooding and boundary disputes if you’re not on your guard. Take advantage of the advanced map layers in Addland Professional to get complete due diligence on your site before you buy.

One way to allay local concerns about a large housing development would be to allocate space for community elements such as nurseries, shops or playgrounds. Factoring in green spaces and planting trees can likewise help with the impact on the natural environment.

As for the cost of setting up essential infrastructure connections, that can usually be offset by the market value of the development. After all, a pleasant environment outside of the city limits, surrounded by green space and free from air pollution, makes a housing or commercial development highly desirable.

With an ever-growing need for properties away from the urban sprawl, greenfield sites are becoming one of the most exciting opportunities. And while there is much to consider before plunging in, there are also plenty of rewards for your budget, flexibility and return on investment - rewards that are hard to ignore.

Addland makes it easy to find, research, buy and sell land. Start your land journey today.


Published: 15 November 2021
Last updated: 31 January 2022

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