The development of small sites for housing across London is being hampered by affordable housing provision, viability and delays getting these often complex, locally unpopular projects through planning. It also needs a more ‘proportionate’ planning process if it is to help rectify the housing shortage.
Pocket Living chief commercial officer Nick Cuff suggested all of this as he kicked off the Unlocking the potential of small sites webinar this week with a look at how small developers have played a meaningful role in housing supply, even the area is data-light and projects are complex.
Working with Lichfields, Pocket has conducted a ‘deep dive’ into the area, looking at the planning journey of around 675 small sites capable of delivering between 10 to 150 homes over the last three years. The average site was around 33 homes, with the nature of affordable housing being delivered on sites being a key issue, along with the ‘big challenge’ of land values and much delayed timescales.
‘What I think is happening is that the number of requirements around tenure and mix is making it much harder for them to be processed effectively’, said Cuff. He added that a lot of waste of talent and energy is going into the system but being dissipated and not delivering, with protracted viability negotiations and the market not pricing land effectively. ‘But I think time is the big factor here and that would perhaps suggest why there are fewer and fewer small sites coming forward’, added Cuff. ‘Because the time it takes so long and you're seeing a shift of developers and other organisations that deliver homes deciding that, actually these are too complicated to take forward, and let’s focus on larger opportunities’. More information collection is required, he added, to compare and contrast with how other cities and towns across the UK are faring on small sites, in order to develop effective policy. But was it proportionate to have the same decision-making process on small sites as it is with large?
This lack of proportionality is affecting overall delivery and if we can get that right across the system, we will see a whole panoply of new sites coming forward in suburban areas, in urban areas, and that will help meet and address some of those housing shortages we are seeing at the moment.
Other speakers at the event included Kuheli Mookerjee of the GLA, who said it is about to publish a report into work it has been doing with public landowners on small sites to build a pipeline of sites. ‘Small sites have a crucial role to play in meeting London’s housing needs’, said Mookerjee, ‘providing an estimated capacity of 12,000 homes per year’, whilst also supporting other policy objectives around diversifying the house building sector and providing opportunities for small builders. Affordability requirements were a challenge on sites less than 10 units, she agreed, so a small sites, small builders programme will provide funding and a streamlined service to help bring publicly owned sites forward for residential development.
Remi CT Studio director Remi Connolly-Taylor showed a picture of delivering small sites as a really exciting opportunity to showcase new forms of living, while Jonathan Martin of LB Waltham Forest detailed how the authority is unlocking small sites for investment and development, largely through a strategic asset management plan whilst recognising issues on sites such as overshadowing. ‘We see this as a rich vein, potentially, in new development that we can certainly channel’, he said. ‘And we’re looking to bring that into a more coherent smaller sites programme’. Finally, HTA design partner Caroline Dove said the practice had had a ‘very positive experience of small sites’ and viewed small sites as a great way to increase density, particularly in the outer suburbs. But she also emphasised how essential it is to engage with people right the way through the process. ‘They need to get something back from it’, Dove said.