Creative Use of Brownfield Sites to Deliver Thames Towns

In their latest report Create Streets and Policy Exchange have identified the opportunity to redevelop brownfield sites to create ‘Londonlike neighbourhoods’, including a series of mixed-use towns along the Thames estuary.

The new draft London Plan has set ambitious targets for councils to fulfil their part in providing the 66,000 new homes needed a year. In their latest report Create Streets notes that as well as building more homes, “London also needs to support employment growth by providing the right kind of space for businesses to flourish. We need workplaces, shops, cafes, restaurants and community areas. These new spaces must reflect the changing nature of retail, industrial work, technological advances and falling car use in the city”.


They explain that it is therefore essential to maximise the use of valuable land in London and to combine uses within neighbourhoods. This means building at higher housing density but delivered in the shape of well-designed quality buildings that reflect London’s character.

“ We think there is great opportunity to build new but authentic ‘London-like neighbourhoods’ using the same sort of typologies but in more affordable parts of the city, hence pricing people in rather than out. This would mean thinking differently about land use on existing brownfield sites”.


Create Streets estimate that there are 1,220 sites which are currently dominated by industrial and retail uses in the shape of ‘big box’, single storey sheds,  which they have called ‘Boxland’. These sites could be redeveloped as mixed use, retaining all existing commercial uses (and perhaps adding more) whilst accommodating between 250,000 to 300,000 new homes, forming an urban pattern of largely medium-rise ‘London-like neighbourhoods’.

Typical Boxland on Old Kent road, London in Willowbrook Estate. Source: Create Streets
Boroughs with the greatest potential from Boxland redevelopment. Source:Create Streets

To achieve this they recommend a series of changes and additions to policies in the new draft London Plan, borough plans and building rules:

  • The mayor should champion the need for mixed-use ‘Londonlike neighbourhoods’ on brownfield sites.
  • The new London Plan should put even greater emphasis on bringing sites forward with ongoing industrial or retail use by mixing commercial and residential uses.
  • The GLA should extend the requirement for borough-wide design codes to get local communities onboard-  for small sites to development on Boxland sites. Such codes should be worked up with local residents as ‘Community Codes’.
  • Government must support good density not just high density. Planning guidelines must be altered to distinguish between urban and suburban areas and encourage finer grain, mixed use and flexible buildings in close proximity along traditional street patterns.


The report states that there is a great opportunity for the mayor to set out a profoundly more inspirational vision about new development and suggests three unifying themes to capture the potential to banish Boxland and build ‘London-like neighbourhoods’:

Thames Towns: a popular programme for a series of low-rise, high density traditional mixed-use towns or neighbourhoods along the banks of the Thames Estuary

Elizabeth Towns: a popular programme for medium-rise, high density traditional mixed-use town centres on former Boxland along the new Elizabeth Line

Create Boulevards: a partially community-led programme for the popular beautification and intensification of London’s arterial roads with more trees and a range of attractive medium-rise new buildings.

To read the full report click here.


External Sources

Create Streets’ website

Policy Exchange website: Better Brownfield