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2,000-home developments take over eight years to deliver

Words: Laura Edgar
New builds / Shutterstock_403894639

Research has suggested that housing sites comprising 2,000 or more homes take longer than eight years on average from application to completion.

According to research by planning consultancy Lichfields, this means that large schemes tend not to deliver within the time window for local authorities to meet their five-year land supply statements.

However, the delivery of large schemes speeds up after year five of development.

Start to Finish, an update to the consultancy’s research on delivery time first published in November 2016, considers the length of time it takes for different-sized sites to deliver homes. It analyses 97 sites of more than 500 dwellings, 35 of which were designed to deliver 2,000 homes or more. These equate to more than 195,000 dwellings.

It finds that sites that were supposed to deliver 500 homes or fewer have “consistently” delivered those units within five years of submitting an outline planning application – taking about three years on average.

Lichfields says this reflects the practicalities involved in discharging conditions, servicing the site and building new homes.

The consultancy’s study also finds that:

  • Large-scale brownfield sites are built out at a slower rate than large-scale greenfield sites. The research states that the average rate of build-out for greenfield sites in its sample is 34 per cent greater than the equivalent brownfield ones.
  • Schemes including more than 30 per cent of affordable housing were built at “close to twice the rate” as those with lower levels of affordable housing as a percentage of overall units. According to Lichfields, local plans should reflect that – where viable – higher rates of affordable housing supports greater rates of delivery.

Lichfields’ senior director Matthew Spry said: “The question of how quickly and how much housing a site can begin delivering once it has planning permission or an allocation is significant because large-scale developments are an increasingly important component of local authority plans for housing; our recent research on garden communities found that local authorities often rely on such schemes to deliver a third or more of the housing they require.

“Only deliverable sites with a realistic prospect that housing will be built within five years can be included in a calculation of a five-year housing supply by a local authority.”

The government’s garden communities programme is expected to contribute more than 400,000 homes to its target to deliver 300,000 homes a year, but Lichfields' research, published in December 2019, found that it could take five years before the programme has enough momentum to make a “significant” contribution.

The firm’s modelling suggests that it would take until 2050 for the programme to be built out in full, without consideration of unforeseen delays. The next five years would see 21,000 homes delivered, after which the rate of delivery would be increased to 16,000 each year after 2030 until 2044, when it would taper off to 13,000 homes a year.

The factors behind the average eight-year period from planning to completion of the first home identified in Start to Finish will vary between sites, according to Lichfields. It points to the significant reductions in local authority planning resources over the past 10 years as a contributory factor.

Other delays lie outside the planning system, such as securing the necessary technical approvals from other bodies and agencies.

While Start to Finish presents some averages, Spry explained that the research shows “significant” variation across the sites considered – “some are quick, others less so – and the pace of delivery depends on a wide range of factors, many of which are down to the on-the-ground reality of development specific to that location”.

“It is incumbent on local planners to have a good understanding of the circumstances of development of a particular site so they can identify what might help to improve the pace of build-out, but then also be prudent in what is expected to be delivered, so supply is maintained throughout the plan period.

“A number of local plans have hit troubles because they overestimated the yield from some of their proposed allocations, and in too many local plans and five-year housing land supply cases, there is insufficient evidence to justify how large sites are treated in housing trajectories.”

Start to Finish won a 2017 RTPI Award for Research Excellence.

Start to Finish Second Edition can be found here on the Lichfields website (pdf).

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