New Government Plans To Boost Housing – How Can Conveyancers Protect Their Clients?

The election is over, and the Conservatives won a decisive victory.

While Brexit took much of the attention during the campaign, the Conservatives made a number of bold promises in their manifesto; one of which was to, “deliver at least another million homes  in the next five years, making further progress towards the target of 300,000 new houses a year by the mid-2020s”. This is heading towards the heady days of the late 1960s when over 350,000 home were built, but quite a leap from the approximately 40,000 new homes completed  each quarter in the last year. If the government is serious about building so many new homes, this then begs the question, where will the land come from? And how can new buyers be assured that their investment is protected from large-scale land development in their immediate area?

While new houses do need to be built, prospective buyers have every right to know whether new planned developments will place too much pressure on infrastructure in the local area if not also boosted correspondingly. Building homes is one thing, but building the road, bus, rail, drainage, schools, hospitals, GP, energy, and other vital infrastructure necessary to support daily life is also essential. It is for this reason that during the conveyancing process, prospective purchasers should be made aware of searches which may be valuable to them in future years, even if not immediately.

The Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA)

Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s) across the UK regularly draw up and review their SLAA’s to identify land for future development. These are completed due to the legal obligation placed on LPA’s to “identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide a minimum of 5 years’ worth of housing against their housing requirement set out in adopted strategic policies”, according to the National Planning Policy Framework  defined by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. The SLAA provides key information on a range of sites which could be used, not whether they will be used; this is defined in the LPA’s development plan. According to government planning guidance, it is the suitability, availability and achievability of sites, including whether the site is economically viable, which will determine if a site is ‘deliverable’ within the next five years. As such, the SLAA does not provide certainty that development will proceed in the coming years on the sites identified, but it provides a useful guide to prospective buyers.

The importance of explaining search options to clients

Local authority searches provide a wealth of useful information relating to any restrictions relating to the land or property being purchased (LLC1) and public highways, roads, rail schemes, and planning decisions which may impact the property being purchased (CON29). The problem being that only planning decisions relating to the specific property will be covered. It for this reason that a Plansearch report may then be conducted. The Plansearch report covers applications and land use designations within a 250-metre radius. What it does not include, however, is information relating to how land in the immediate vicinity may be used in the future. Having such information to hand may even change the purchasing decision of the buyer. On the contrary, it may add to the resolve of the buyer, especially if the property may gain in value as a result of the potential development.

It is for this reason that a Devassess report may be highly beneficial. This report provides a detailed assessment of development risk within 75 metres of the property being purchased, including:

  • potential future development sites where no relevant planning history exists, and;
  • land allocated for development where no relevant planning history exists

Search providers Devassist , will also, for a premium, provide a detailed study of the relevant SHLAA, planned changes to nearby infrastructure, and Ordnance Survey (OS) mapping showing potential development sites.

Balancing the need for gathering more information with transaction completion times

Beyond the standard local authority searches, environmental searches and drainage and water searches, conveyancers must balance the need to protect their clients from future occurrences relating to their purchase with ensuring the transaction is completed in a timely manner. Most will recommend additional searches which they believe are required but given the vast array of specialist searches available in the UK, the purchaser cannot be expected to fully understand the relative merits of each. Indeed, they may just be seen as adding to the overall cost of the purchase. Given that specialist searches may provide information which is of considerable significance to the buyer, adding or subtracting from their buying decision, offering them peace of mind, or protecting their future interests, conveyancers can play a role in explaining the searches available and why they should be considered. By taking the time to protect the interests of clients, this will be seen as adding value to the conveyancing transaction and to the profession as a whole. This may now be especially important if we are on the cusp of a new home building boom.

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