Small sites making a big difference to housing delivery

Harrogate council was keen to understand and evaluate the issues and challenges facing delivery of smaller sites across the district. Looking a fresh at how we interact with landowners, promoters and developers.

What went in

  • Priority area addressed: Improvements to housing delivery on smaller sites across the whole district.
  • Budget: £35k
  • Other resource needed: The council provided a core project team of officers from across the Place Shaping and Economic Growth Service, liaising with the appointed consultants. Officer time was given in collating planning permission data and assisting with survey preparation/mailing.
  • Time taken to achieve study outcomes: The evidence gathering and draft reporting was carried out between November 2019 and April 2020.  Finalisation of the study faced delays due to officer time being directed to Covid-19 response priorities. However, Officers now have a shared view of actions arising from the study for implementation over the course of 2021.

What came out

  • Deliverables: The study has given us an understanding of what the barriers are to timely site development. It will help us set priorities and actions to sustain improved housing delivery.
  • Difference made/ indication of success: The council can use the study outcomes to target engagement more closely with landowners and developers. It will allow us to implement more effective, creative and coordinated working practices with the aim of improving housing delivery across the District.
  • Statistics: We will be able to check success over the new few years through our housing Annual Monitoring Report (AMR) as well as follow up discussions with applicants and agents.
  • Stakeholder comments:

Head of Planning Policy: “An interesting report with some good food for thought”

Director of Economy and Culture: There is some good content in the report that can be developed into meaningful actions to take forward”

Executive summary

Challenge and context

Small housing sites (9 units and under) currently make up almost 20 per cent of the council’s housing supply and can provide a valuable pipeline for SME house builders in addition to providing opportunities for self-build and custom build housing; helping to diversify the housing market offer. The council was keen to understand and evaluate the issues and challenges facing delivery of smaller sites across the district. Looking a fresh at how we interact with landowners, promoters and developers. By understanding reasons for delays we can target solutions which are proactive and engaging to make a difference. Ultimately this will help support our housing growth strategy, as set out in the adopted 2020 Harrogate District Local Plan.  It will also provide benefits through improved customer service for our Planning function and assist economic growth through construction jobs and support services.

What we did

We appointed independent expertise, there is real added value in engaging external consultants to undertake this type of project. This approach allows us to gain an accurate view of how we are perceived by our customers. Local Partnerships undertook the study on behalf of the council. They looked at how we interact with landowners, promoters and developers of small sites. The study explored barriers to timely delivery and considered proactive and engaging initiatives to bring consented sites forward in a timely manner. Key to the study was engagement with applicants and agents to better understand the issues they faced. Postal, online and telephone surveys were undertaken as well as 1-2-1 follow up informal interviews.  The responses were analysed and the study reported back to the core project team and senior officers.

The difference we made

It is still early days but the council has already put new posts in place whose roles are to improve housing delivery. We are proactively engaging more directly with agents, applicants and colleagues to start making changes. We hope that in undertaking this study and setting achievable actions we can enable improvements and increase opportunities for small sites.

What's next?

Delays in developing small sites is not a unique or local issue. A number of local authorities across the country are facing similar problems. The council will develop and implement a package of actions to support landowners and SMEs. Partnership working with other local authorities is a great way to share experience and potential solutions. The council is very much committed to exploring new initiatives in order to unlock new home developments and to share lessons learned with other partners and local authorities. Equally, the council is keen to gain experience from other councils who are succeeding in driving an up-take in small sites supply.

Lessons learnt
  • Permissions for small sites are often sought by family and individual owners, unfamiliar with the planning system. Delays can occur in either selling the site on to a developer or in finding and appointing a contractor.  
  • Restricted supply of SME’s to take forward sites with permission is often a factor.  Better engagement and support for local SME’s could help the timely development of sites.
  • Further improvements to the Planning Service can still be made to streamline the time between permission granted and construction of homes.
  • Close working partnerships between Council services will help with finding solutions.


Alex Robinson, Housing Delivery Improvement Officer, email: