Assessing markets and land availability

This section is about strategic assessments of housing and land availability and how they are relevant to community-led housing. 

What are strategic housing and land availability assessments (SHLAAs)?

  • A SHLAA is an assessment of potential housing land within a district/council conducted by the local planning authority to inform planning policy development and implementation. It is a requirement of the National Planning Policy Framework and an important step in the preparation of Local Plans 
  • The aim of the process is to identify land that may be appropriate for development and assess the availability, suitability and deliverability, of potential sites
  • The Call for Sites is the first stage in the SHLAA. Through the Call for Sites, private, public and voluntary sector bodies and individuals may submit potential housing sites for consideration as part of the SHLAA.
  • Submitted sites are then assessed by the local planning authority through the SHLAA to establish the capacity, availability, deliverability and their suitability for residential and mixed-use development. The assessment considers the range of planning policy, environmental and local constraints and the extent to which these can be mitigated or addressed.
  • The assessment is an important evidence source to inform plan making but does not in itself determine whether a site should be allocated for development. This is because not all sites considered in the assessment will be suitable for development (eg because of policy constraints or if they are unviable).
  • Designated neighbourhood forums and parish/town councils may use the methodology to assess sites as a starting point, but any assessment should be proportionate. Neighbourhood forums and parish councils may also refer to existing site assessments prepared by the local planning authority when identifying sites to allocate within a neighbourhood Plan. (See link below)  

Who should planning authorities work with?

  • The SHLAA should be undertaken and regularly reviewed, working with other local planning authorities in the relevant housing market area or functional economic market area, in line with the duty to co-operate. The guidance states that the following stakeholders should be involved from the earliest stages of plan preparation, which includes the evidence base in relation to land availability: Developers; those with land interests; land promoters; local property agents; local communities; partner organisations; Local Enterprise Partnerships; businesses and business representative organisations; parish and town councils; neighbourhood forums preparing neighbourhood plans 
  • When carrying out a desktop review, planning authorities should be proactive in identifying as wide a range as possible of sites and broad locations for development (including those existing sites that could be improved, intensified or changed)
  • Planners should issue a call for potential sites and broad locations for development, which should be aimed at as wide an audience as is practicable so that those not normally involved in property development have the opportunity to contribute 

What should the assessment include?

  • The Government Guidance includes a set of standard outputs that should be produced from the assessment to ensure consistency, accessibility and transparency:
    • a list of all sites or broad locations considered, cross-referenced to their locations on maps;
    • an assessment of each site or broad location, in terms of its suitability for development, availability and achievability including whether the site/broad location is viable) to determine whether a site is realistically expected to be developed and when;
    • contain more detail for those sites which are considered to be realistic candidates for development, where others have been discounted for clearly evidenced and justified reasons;
    • the potential type and quantity of development that could be delivered on each site/broad location, including a reasonable estimate of build out rates, setting out how any barriers to delivery could be overcome and when;
    • an indicative trajectory of anticipated development and consideration of associated risks
  • Evidence that development proposals for accessible and manageable homes specifically for older people will free up under-occupied local housing for other population groups is likely to demonstrate a market need that supports the approval of such homes.

Are empty housing and buildings included in assessments?

  • The National Planning Policy Framework also encourages local authorities to bring empty housing and buildings back into residential use. Empty homes can help to contribute towards meeting housing need, but it is for individual local authorities to identify and implement an empty homes strategy. A good example of an empty homes strategy can be found here.
  • Any approach to bringing empty homes back into use and counting these against housing need would have to be robustly evidenced by the local planning authority at the independent examination of the draft Local Plan, for example to test the deliverability of the strategy and to avoid double counting. (Local planning authorities would need to demonstrate that empty homes had not been counted within their existing stock of dwellings when calculating their overall need for additional dwellings in their local plans)

Relevant Resources

Government step by step guidance on housing land availability assessment

More information about Local Plans is here

More information about Neighbourhood Plans

A useful SHLAA Methodology flowchart

A checklist of potential data sources for different types of site

A practical template for local authority land availability assessments

Another practical template for local authority land availability assessments


Last updated in March 2020