How to Tell if a Site is Right for You

Head of Planning, Paul Uttley BSc (Hons) DipTP MRTPI summarises the factors you need to consider before you invest.

At a time when good plots are extremely hard to come by – especially in Surrey and the South East, there are many sites which are being offered on the market with so-called development potential.

For developers, it can be tempting to take on virtually any site that comes onto the market, but how do you know if it’s actually likely to deliver healthy profits?

Paul Uttley | FORM Design Group Planning Director
Whilst it is not strictly speaking a planning matter, as decisions should be made exclusively on planning merits, it is worth considering whether there are any local political issues/hurdles which need to be addressed.

Is this the ‘Right Site’?

There is very often a large ‘hope value’ associated with sites that come onto the market, but it is worth spending some time to assess the actual and realistic potential. As a developer, you are being asked to invest substantial sums of money upfront before you see any rewards, so it’s best to be diligent in the early stages to avoid potentially costly headaches later in the project.

At FORM, we are often asked to look into a site’s potential before an investment is made.

So what are the things that should be looked at and how does this affect the financial viability of a scheme?

1.  Planning Constraints

Firstly, you need to fully understand:

  • The planning policy constraints associated with the land allocation
  • How what you are proposing will fit with the local development plan. This is not just a case of looking at the current situation, but also understanding emerging policy; and what the Council’s housing land supply position is
  • Whether it offers real potential opportunity for profitable development and if so, what timeframe you are likely to be looking at.

Planning Policy

There are other policy issues which need to be examined and considered within any assessment/financial appraisal, such as affordable housing, community infrastructure levy and S106 planning obligation contributions.

Physical Constraints

Next, you need to take a hard look at the physical constraints associated with the site. For instance, does it lie within a flood zone; are the trees protected; what influence will topography have on development potential, site access etc? There are many physical factors which need to be considered, so take professional advice to ensure that you have accounted for potential problems.

What’s Around the Site?

It’s not just a case of looking at the actual site itself – you also need to gain an understanding of the influence of adjoining sites. Factors that you need to look at carefully include:

  • Does it border a conservation area or a heritage asset?
  • Are there ecological constraints?
  • Are there any issues of overlooking, overshadowing or overdominance?
  • How can you design around all these factors?

Local Politics

Whilst it is not strictly speaking a planning matter, as decisions should be made exclusively on planning merits, it is worth considering whether there are any local political issues/hurdles which need to be addressed.  This is not just about considering the specific local elected members, but also understanding the influence bodies such as local residents groups, parish councils and amenity societies have.

You need to be clear about how you can address their concerns from the outset, and these factors all need to be part of your strategy going forward.

Only once you’ve assessed these factors should you be putting the pen to the drawing board.  Too often, schemes are drawn up without this knowledge, only to fail once significant amounts of money have been invested.

We Make Sure You Have the Right Site

At FORM, we offer a full initial appraisal of the planning issues, alongside a carefully designed scheme which assesses what’s realistically achievable.

In the words of Samuel Johnson, ‘What we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.’