Research article

Where's the land?

development land

Longer term funding gives housing associations an opportunity to increase control over their land pipeline

The risks unfolding in the housing market and the scale of ambition required to fill the supply gap mean that housing associations and local authorities need to be more in control of affordable housing delivery if development aspirations are to be met. A crucial part of this is control of a land pipeline for affordable housing. Not surprisingly then in Savills Housing Sector Survey 2018, access to land was identified as the biggest constraint restricting development capacity for 85% of housing associations.

Housing associations have tended to enter the land market towards the later stages of development, although there are well known exceptions. This is highlighted in Figure 5, which presents a snapshot of the residential development land pipeline in October 2018.

The short-term nature of government funding programmes and policy initiatives has, in the past, limited the capacity of the sector to employ a long-term strategic approach towards land. But the additional £2 billion of funding for affordable housing between 2021 and 2029 provides a new opportunity for the more widespread involvement of housing associations at earlier stages of the planning system, adopting a more land-led approach towards development by building up significant strategic pipelines.

Who controls the development pipeline?

Figure 5 Who controls the development pipeline?
Source: Savills Development Database

Housebuilders are involved at all stages of the planning process and have a much longer-term pipeline of development land. They have taken a more active role promoting land and control significant land holdings at all stages of development. We have explored the model used by seven of the top ten housebuilders to acquire land between 2011 and 2017.

These housebuilders used a mix of plots purchased with detailed planning permission and plots converted from their strategic pipelines. Converted plots are those that have been transferred from strategic land banks (without planning consent) into immediate land banks (with full planning consent). Their development activity relies upon a balance between strategic land and purchased consented land. 36% of the immediate land pipeline was sourced through conversions from their strategic pipeline during the last three years.

Housebuilder pipeline management

Figure 6 Housebuilder pipeline management
Source: Housebuilder reports: Barratt, Bellway, Bovis, Crest Nicholson, Persimmon, Redrow, Taylor Wimpey

This strategy is intended to provide a buffer against the rollercoaster of the housing market. It also enhances the control housebuilders have over their future development volumes. Housing associations will need to gain more of this control if affordable housing delivery is going to be sustained through tougher housing market conditions.


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