How councils decide which sites to allocate for housing development

A crucial role for councils is to identify enough land to deliver the number of new homes they need. That is done as part of the Local Plan process. This post explains exactly how councils choose which sites should be developed.

The role of the Local Plan

Every council in England is supposed to have a Local Plan to guide development for the next 15 years or so. The Plan should set out what the council want their local area to look like at the end of that period of time. That might include things like: encouraging economic growth by identifying enough land for new businesses; improving the quality and quantity of parks and play space; even delivering new roads.

A central part of the Local Plan is setting out how many new homes are needed and exactly where they should be built. There are a number of steps that a council should follow when deciding which sites should be allocated for development.

Where should the new homes go?

The first part of the process is for a council to decide how the new homes should be spread across the area. There are lots of different ways of doing that depending on the characteristics of the borough. For example, the council might decide to focus most of the development on one large town with few new homes elsewhere. An alternative might be to increase the size of every town and village in proportion to its existing size. Or some parts of the area might not be suitable for new homes (perhaps they’re in the Green Belt or at risk of flooding) so the supply of new homes needs to be weighted towards other areas. The council could even decide to build a whole new settlement.

A number of those different options will be tested by the council, including asking the public for their views. They then settle on a preferred option that will eventually form the basis of the Local Plan.

Which sites should be developed?

Once the general spread of new homes has been identified, the next stage is for the council to identify exactly which sites will be developed. Whichever sites the council choose must be deliverable – the homes proposed much actually get built. National planning policy sets out the following three tests to decide whether a site is deliverable:

1. Is the site suitable for development?

This test relates to the characteristics of the site. For example, is the the site in a location that relates well to existing housing and where there are local services that the new residents can use? It also takes into account factors like flood risk, ecology, traffic issues and heritage designations.

2. Is development of the site achievable?

This test concerns technical matters about the development of the site. For example, can access be provided to the site? Issues like contamination, drainage and topography are also considered.

3. Is the site available for development?

If a site owner won’t make a site available for development, there is no point allocating it for new homes. This test is usually satisfied by showing the involvement of a developer or land promoter, or by showing that the owner is preparing a planning application of their own.

Spoilt for choice

In any given location, the council will normally have a number of deliverable sites they can choose from. To help them decide which sites are most appropriate for development, they carry out a ‘sustainability appraisal’ scoring each one against a variety of different factors.

Inevitably, however, the decision involves an element of subjectivity. Sites frequently have very similar sustainability ‘scores’ while those scores themselves are often based on subjective judgements. The scores don’t even have to be followed. A council may justify including a site with a lower score for other reasons – to achieve a balance of development around a settlement, for example.

That means that the process can be a bit like a beauty parade. To give a site the best possible chance, it is is important for land owners to provide information to the council explaining how their site is suitable, achievable and available. It can also show what a development on the site might look like.

That is often done by preparing a ‘Development Statement’ supported by specialist technical reports. You can see an example of one of those statements here.

Confirming the allocations

Once the council has made their choice, the proposed allocations are subject to public consultation. That provides an opportunity for objectors to identify reasons why development shouldn’t take place on that site.

The owners of competing sites which haven’t been identified for development are also likely to push their own credentials – and may criticise your site in the process. That may result in the council making some changes to the list of sites they want to see developed.

The final set of proposed development sites will be submitted to a government-appointed planning inspector. The inspector will consider the evidence supporting each allocation, and how well they will help the council achieve their overall vision for the borough. If the inspector is happy with the proposals, the council will finally be able to adopt the plan, and bring those allocations into force.

How The Strategic Land Group can help

When councils are deciding which sites to allocate for development, there is an opportunity to secure support for new homes on your site. We’ve explained in general terms how you can turn that new Plan to your advantage in this previous post.

As you would expect though, even for sites that have strong development credentials, that process is complicated, time consuming and expensive.

The Strategic Land Group is a specialist land promoter with a proven track record of delivering housing development on sites through the Local Plan process. We work with land owners to deliver planning permission on their behalf, at our cost and risk. Our return is a share of the value of the site once it is sold. If we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost you anything.

If you have a site that you think might benefit from our approach, get in touch with us today for a free, no obligation assessment.

Find out how we can help