As the population continues to rise and lifestyle choices lead to more people living alone for longer, the UK needs to increase its housing supply. The government remains committed to delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s and many of the immediate changes focus on how we plan to deliver the homes our communities need. However, by building more homes additional pressure will be placed on land. Balancing the UK’s housing policy agenda with other potential uses of land requires an awareness of socio-economic factors, the form and features of land itself , and readiness of land for construction.
We have been working with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to explore how geospatial data and modelling tools can support better decision making on land for housing. We started with a roundtable with senior officials from across the government. This was followed by a workshop that brought together academic experts, civil servants, and public body representatives.
Identifying viable land through geospatial modelling
In February 2023, we brought together senior decision makers to understand the policy priorities related to land for housing developments and how land use tools may better support integrated land-use decisions.
Attendees agreed that the evidence on viable land is held mainly by Local Authorities. The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the principles to guide local authorities, but it does not specify where housing developments should be taking place. They also felt that regular and consistent updating of brownfield site data (through the Brownfield Land Registers) could further assist local authorities in identifying suitable sites for redevelopment.
The civil servants agreed integrated modelling tools could be useful to support dialogues between local authorities, developers, and the public to allocate land for housing, while considering other socio-economic factors. For example, the attendees emphasised the local level constraints that needed to be considered, such as local housing needs, affordability, and geographies of work. To further support effective decision-making they also agreed on the need for better sharing of information, clarity on assumptions, and more frequent reporting of data.
Sites identification needs well-defined criteria for land for housing
Our subsequent workshop in March 2023 aimed to explore ways in which existing academic work and models could help DLUHC achieve its aims. Attendees agreed that existing models and maps, such as ITRC Urban Development Model and the OS MasterMap could help guide decision making on land for housing. During the first half of the workshop attendees also identified datasets and characteristics that would need to be considered in land use modelling and mapping to make informed decisions. This included factors that may impact the suitability of land for housing developments, such as:
- Economic datasets including land costs and housing affordability
- Environmental concerns such as nutrient neutrality, flooding, and land contamination
- Information on the distance from site to transport hubs, centres of employment, and amenities.
To ensure the models effectively support decision making, it was stated that regular and consistent updating of databases such as the Brownfield Registers and standardisation of definitions and model parameters (i.e. land cover type colour) are needed. Several data gaps were also mentioned, including spatiotemporal dynamics of land use change, biodiversity impacts, and aspects such as housing delivery timescales.
During the final stage of the Land Use Dialogues Programme, we will explore how land use modelling can support the UK’s environmental targets on water quality and protect access to water supplies into the future. Check back here for another progress update in April!