Large housing sites deliver homes twice as slowly

This month’s Autumn Statement is expected to include the government’s announcement as to which of over 50 Garden Village bids it will support with a package of funding and other measures.

However, new research cautions against the sort of garden village development such developments, although welcome, are not the ‘silver bullet’ to the UK’s housebuilding woes.

Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP)’s report, ‘Start to finish: how quickly do large-scale housing sites deliver?’ finds that the length of time it takes to secure the necessary planning approvals is over twice as long on larger schemes – just over six years for developments of 2,000+ homes – compared to less than two-and-half years for those under 500 homes.

The report also finds that greenfield sites can deliver new homes at twice the speed of brownfield sites and that developments with 30% affordable homes will deliver almost twice as fast as those with a 10% to 19% affordable homes provision.

Matthew Spry, Senior Director at NLP, said, “Large-scale new developments have lots of advantages, but the speed at which these sites can realistically deliver new homes needs to be given serious consideration if housing needs are to be met.

“The build rates on large sites are a function of natural market absorption rates, infrastructure requirements, and the risk profile associated with implementation over the course of the economic cycle, as well as how many affordable homes – or other types of tenure – are being provided.

“We know the Government is looking at measures to speed up housing delivery, but great care is required if we are to avoid making these already risky large-scale developments less attractive to funders.

“The Government, local authorities and industry should really focus its efforts on ensuring a good mix of both small and large-scale developments alongside one another to ensure a consistent rate of housing delivery to meet national housebuilding targets.”

NLP’s research found that even the biggest schemes – those with capacity for 2,000 units – will, on average, deliver fewer than 200 dwellings a year.

But it also found that their average rate – 161 homes a year – is still much higher than for smaller sites, with sites of less than 100 delivering, on average, 27 homes a year.

The report also found that developments of more than 2,000 dwellings do not deliver four times more dwellings than a site delivering between 100 and 499 homes. In fact, it only delivers an average of 2.5 times more houses. This reflects market absorption rates and other factors.

The research also found that it takes a very long time for large schemes to secure all the necessary planning approvals. The largest schemes of 2,000+ dwellings had an average planning approval period of schemes of 6.1 years. The average for all large sites is five years.

Spry added, “Large-scale sites are not a silver bullet. Their scale, complexity and, in some cases, up-front infrastructure costs means they are not always easy to kick start.

“And once up and running, there is a need to be realistic about how quickly they can deliver new homes. Past decades have seen too many large-scale developments failing to deliver as quickly as expected, and gaps in housing land supply have opened up as a result.”

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