Local authorities could help deliver over a million new homes by unlocking unused small sites, new research reveals

A new study conducted by LDS Sales Guarantees has revealed that local authorities in England and Wales own almost 320,000 unused small sites — enough to build 1.6 million homes.

According to the report, which uses data from Land Registry and Nimbus Map, all sites — which are each three acres or less in size — combined cover a total of nearly 100,000 acres, or 400 sq km.

Using hyperlocal data, researchers were able to work out the average residential density on every street on which each of the small sites stands, in order to calculate how many homes could be built on each plot without significantly changing the average housing density of a local area.

Based on the research, the small sites could accommodate a total of 1.6 million homes, providing enough living space for 3.8 million people at national average occupancy rates of 2.4 people per property.

Overall, Kent Council owned the biggest number of unused small sites — amounting to 10,332.

The local authorities with the highest number of unused sites include:

  • North Yorkshire - 5,854
  • Durham - 5,590
  • Birmingham - 4,933
  • Devon - 4,867
  • Surrey - 4,808
  • Lancashire - 4,462
  • Sandwell - 4,175
  • Leeds - 3,745
  • Cornwall - 3,743

In light of the new research, LDS has published a policy paper calling for new rules to help unlock small sites for SME housebuilders.

The paper proposes that combined authorities — or individual councils in areas where no combined authorities exist — would identify brownfield sites suitable for housing and hold a simplified procurement process for SME housebuilders with a turnover below an agreed threshold.

Decision-making would be based on simple criteria, including deliverability and the degree to which the proposals can increase affordable housing supply, create skills and jobs in the local area, and use local supply chains.

The paper also calls for streamlined planning processes, with councils applying to themselves for outline planning permission for housing once sites have been identified. 

According to LDS, this would speed up the process, as well as provide SME housebuilders with greater certainty and improve their ability to secure funding.

Mark Hawthorn, CEO at LDS Sales Guarantees, said: “Accessing suitable land parcels remains a principal challenge for SME housebuilders. 

“We understand why councils focus on large plots of land to deliver housing at volume; however, our analysis demonstrates a plethora of small sites owned by local authorities, the majority of which, if identified and disposed of correctly, can breathe new life into the SME housebuilding revival."

Andrew Lewer, MP and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for SME housebuilders, added: “I welcome the findings of this study from LDS for highlighting that local authorities own significant portfolios of small sites and for putting forward recommendations to unlock them.

“Unlocking this problem could mean more than just much-needed extra housing — it could also bring a much-needed boost to local economies across England and Wales by creating new jobs in the construction sector and boosting the wider supply chain, with particular benefit for small- and medium-sized housebuilders.”

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