Since 2017, One Public Estate (OPE) has partnered with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to deliver the Brownfield Land Release Fund (BLRF) and its predecessor the Land Release Fund (LRF) – DLUHC funded programmes that enable councils to bring forward their surplus land for new homes.
- Closed to applications
- Applications closed 23:59 on 31 March 2023
One Public Estate is a partnership between the Office of Government Property (OGP) in the Cabinet Office (CO), the Local Government Association (LGA) and DLUHC. Our joint aim is to bring public sector bodies together in order to create better places by using public assets more efficiently, creating service and financial benefits, and releasing land for development to create new homes and jobs for communities.
At the Spending Review 2021, the Chancellor announced a £1.8 billion package of investment to regenerate communities and level-up the country, unlocking new homes on derelict and underused brownfield land.
As part of this, up to £180 million BLRF2 capital grant funding is available to all English councils over a three-year period to support the release of council-owned brownfield land for housing. The first round of BLRF2 launched in June 2022 providing almost £35 million of funding to more than 40 councils, to release land for at least 2,200 homes by 2026.
Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) are eligible, as are their constituent councils. Please note this relates to just the GLA and does not comprise the whole GLA Group.
BLRF funding can be sought as part of a portfolio of government and other funding for projects but this can have implications for both for value for money assessment and delivery confidence. Further information is provided in this document and the Technical Annex (TA) but we would strongly advise councils to also contact OPE Regional Teams at an early stage of preparing their application to discuss further.
BLRF2 will support levelling up ambitions by releasing land for new homes. The fund will support regeneration in places that need it, restoring a sense of community and local pride and spreading opportunity across England so that every place can realise its potential.
OPE Partnerships are now invited to coordinate applications within their areas for BLRF2 Round 2, for award during 2023/24. Up to £60 million of funding is currently available.
Some examples of projects funded by BLRF2 in Round 1 include:
- Hull – £175,000 will release land to deliver 10 new affordable homes for the local community, as part of the city’s regeneration drive.
- Mid-Devon – a total of £280,000 will release land for two modular, affordable housing sites in Tiverton and Cullompton to build 14 quality, low-carbon homes for the community.
- Great Yarmouth – £219,155 for one of two successful projects will boost the city centre by helping to transform old industrial buildings into 32 high-quality affordable homes, turning the area into a vibrant place for people to live.
To find out more about past BLRF/LRF projects, including case studies of successful projects, visit www.local.gov.uk/onepublicestate.
The delivery of high quality new homes across England is a national priority for the UK government and is supported by many councils who are increasingly taking a more hands-on role in the delivery of homes, in order to meet local needs and address their placemaking priorities.
BLRF2 enables councils to unlock land for new homes, and at the same time support the UK government’s levelling up ambition by regenerating local places, reducing geographical inequalities, and empowering local leaders to build pride in place.
About the fund
Since 2017 LRF and BLRF have accelerated the release of council-owned land for 3,372 homes to help increase the public sector contribution to land supply and drive innovation in housebuilding. The programme currently supports over 340 projects on council-owned land that are on track to release land for around a further 14,500 homes.
The programme is unique in targeting council-owned small and medium sites that have been previously developed and where viability issues have prevented their development. BLRF2 allows councils to determine the type, tenure and delivery mechanism for the new homes, drawing on their understanding of local needs. Funding support can enable delivery at pace by bridging these viability challenges and accelerating the release of land for new homes.
Aims and objectives
The aims of BLRF2 are to:
- release council-owned land within three years of receiving the funding, for housing development that otherwise would not come forward during that period
- encourage the use of public assets to drive innovative delivery, where possible supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) / Low and Medium Volume Builders (LMVBs), creating new delivery models, supporting high-quality design and adopting modern methods of construction
- demonstrate a return for government investment into these small sites.
The funding will provide up front capital to address viability issues arising from abnormal costs of the proposed development. The type of abnormal costs requiring funding may include but are not limited to:
- site levelling, groundworks, demolition, remediation
- provision of small-scale infrastructure
- highways works or other access challenges
- addressing environmental constraints
- external works, substructure and piling
- asbestos removal
- sewer diversions.
Following on from previous Self and Custom Build (SCB) funding, BLRF2 will continue to support councils to bring forward serviced self and custom build plots on brownfield land, where this can be delivered in line with the fund criteria. This will be reflected in the assessment of the scheme. Specifically, OPE will look to support councils who can provide replicable exemplars for delivery of serviced plots for self and custom-build housing on council land as well as demonstrating support to the SME sector.
Please refer to the FAQs for the UK government’s definition of self and custom build.
How the fund is operating
BLRF2 will offer up to £180 million of capital grant funding over three years from 2022/23 to 2024/25 to unlock and accelerate the release of homes. The first round of BLRF2 awarded almost £35 million in 2022/23 to provide land for at least 2,200 homes. Up to £60 million will be available in 2023/24 through BLRF2 Round 2.
BLRF2 is aimed at small and medium sized sites that can release land swiftly with funding support. There is no fixed lower or upper limit for each application in terms of homes or site size. As a guide, the average size of a successful BLRF2 Round 1 project was 53 homes, while the median was 29 homes. We would expect the majority of applications to be under £2 million. Should a council feel there is a strong strategic case for a larger bid, exemplary evidence of the deliverability, risk management and project governance approaches to assure land release by 31 March 2027 will be required.
BLRF2 Round 2 closed to applications at 23:59 on 31 March 2023.
OPE Partnerships and councils are strongly encouraged to work with OPE Regional Teams in developing their bids to make these as strong as possible. OPE Partnerships may submit an application at any time. For applications to be assessed in Spring 2023 they would need to be received by 23:59 on 31 March 2023.
Round 2 2023/24
- Up to £60 million available
- Deadline for applications: 23:59 on 31 March 2023
- Decision on applications and announcement of funding awards: Summer 2023
- Works contracts for BLRF2-funded activity: signed by 31 March 2024
- Land release milestone: 31 March 2027
Please note this is given for illustrative purposes only and may be subject to change.
- Up to £80 million available
- Deadline for applications: early Spring 2024
- Decision on applications and announcement of funding awards: Summer 2024
- Works contracts for BLRF2-funded activity signed: TBC
- Land release milestone: 31 March 2028
BLRF2 is open to all councils across England, specifically: Borough, County, District, London Borough, Metropolitan Borough, and Unitary Councils. MCAs and the GLA are eligible, as are their constituent councils. Please note this relates to just the GLA and does not comprise the whole GLA Group.
Applications must be coordinated by the OPE Partnership and submitted via the designated accountable body of the local OPE Partnership. We welcome concise, clearly structured, and well-referenced proposals. Councils and Partnerships are strongly encouraged to work closely with OPE Regional Teams to identify opportunities and develop strong applications.
Our assessment will be based on the material provided within the application form, basic details form and technical annex. We will also use publicly available placed-based information, produced by the Office for National Statistics, to help prioritise applications from places most in need of levelling up.
There is no limit to the number of applications that a council can submit. Each application must relate to an individual site, although we would accept sites that are divided by roads, provided these do not create a significant barrier between parcels of land and sites that would otherwise be contiguous. However, portfolio applications are not eligible for this funding route.
We encourage applicants to review the FAQs, where further information and definitions can be found. The FAQs will be updated throughout the application window as queries are raised by applicants. When applying, applicants should read the fund details, technical annex and accompanying guidance, FAQs, application form and other supporting documents. Applicants should complete the application form, technical annex and basic details form, based on the guidance provided.
All applications will be jointly assessed by the OGP, LGA and DLUHC.
BLRF2 is designed to help councils where funding support will enable quicker land release and housing delivery. Large and highly complex schemes are unlikely to be suitable for this programme, and we would expect the majority of applications to be under £2 million. Should councils feel there is a strong strategic case for a larger bid, exemplary evidence of the deliverability, risk management and project governance approaches to assure land release by 31 March 2027 is required.
The assessment process will follow three stages: eligibility criteria, gateway criteria and project prioritisation criteria.
Eligibility criteria (pass/fail)
Applications will only be considered if the following criteria are satisfied:
- The land to which the application relates to is previously developed land (brownfield land) as defined in the Glossary (Annex 2) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
- The land is in council ownership at the point of application. For BLRF2 applications that are part of a larger project, or a project where there may be multiple landowners involved, BLRF2 can only fund works on (or in respect of releasing) the council-owned land.
- The project must be undertaking capital works on council-owned land only.
- The applicant must ensure any works contracts for BLRF2 Round 2 funded activity are signed by 31 March 2024 and evidence of this should be provided to OPE by 12 April 2024. All councils awarded funding will be required to sign a Grant Funding Agreement (GFA).
- The project must be able to release land by 31 March 2027.
- The council has a general or specialised housing need.
- The council’s S151 Officer or Chief Executive must sign the application.
- The council or OPE Partnership must notify relevant local MPs of their submitted application.
- The OPE Partnership must:
- operate an effective partnership board
- continue to ensure updates regarding all land and property assets (except social housing stock) owned by partnership councils and public sector partners are undertaken on the ePIMS Lite system (or its successor) by the end of the financial year in which any BLRF2 funding is awarded, and annually thereafter. OPE Partnerships continues to require applicants’ commitment to updating ePIMS on an annual basis.
- adhere to reporting requirements, by providing regular data on project progress and benefits delivery updates -currently this is expected three times a year
- consent to the sharing of application documents for the purposes of assessing the bid application. The document will be shared with LGA, DLUHC, OGP and may be shared with other Government Departments as required and will be stored in line with GDPR requirements.
Gateway critieria (pass/fail)
If the project passes the eligibility criteria, it will be considered against the following gateway criteria:
- evidence of value for money
- evidence of market failure
- evidence of deliverability and mitigation of risk.
Project prioritisation criteria
If the project passes both eligibility and gateway criteria, it will be prioritised for funding using the following criteria:
- Place based metrics (50 per cent)
- Strategic case (35 per cent)
- Innovation (10 per cent)
- Public Sector Equality Duty (5 per cent)
Place-based metrics carry 50 per cent of the overall weighting.
Both deprivation and productivity data will be used to provide a place based metric score, which will be automatically applied to the application. Applicants are not required to provide evidence to support this element of the application.
Further details of how this will be calculated are provided below:
- Deprivation: the proportion of lower super output areas in a council that are in the 10 per cent most deprived lower super output areas nationally as per the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2019 – a widely used way of measuring deprivation. This enables the identification of areas with particularly concentrated deprivation that will benefit from holistic regeneration to address complex problems and provide a new economic purpose.
- Productivity: Gross Value Added (GVA) per hour worked (2019), a widely used labour productivity measure. This enables the identification of areas that are performing less well economically than other parts of the country, and which will benefit from regeneration that creates spaces fit for the modern economy.
These two metrics have been weighted 75:25 per cent in favour of the Index of Multiple Deprivation and ranked. Subsequently, this ranked list was used to calculate the corresponding score between 0 – 50. The place-based list can be found in the 'how to apply' section of the website.
The strategic case carries 35 per cent of the overall weighting, which will be assessed against the opportunity and links to local and national government priorities.
Projects should articulate how, and the degree to which they will:
- contribute to the delivery of the council’s housing strategy, meet up to date local plan objectives including regeneration, design and density and/or meet other relevant council strategies
- support economic recovery
- provide skills and apprenticeships opportunities
- commit to local employment and reduce unemployment
- commit to local suppliers
- meet a particular need e.g. key worker or affordable housing, a mix of tenures, for older people, or projects that will benefit ex-service personnel, homeless or ex-offenders.
In assessing the strategic case, applications should demonstrate a clear connection between the impact of the project, evidenced against specific and relevant policy/objectives across several key policy areas/objectives such as housing regeneration and economic development. Project outcomes and impacts should clearly contribute to monitored policy goals/outcomes, such as those that support affordable housing.
Furthermore, supporting documentation should have gone through a process of external consultation and/or scrutiny before becoming official council policy by an appropriate democratic process. Supporting documentation should be as up to date as possible and reflect wider relevant national policy and guidance. For example, where a project meets the requirements of a number of housing and regeneration policies/objectives in an adopted Local Plan, the Local Transport Plan and the council’s Housing Strategy then we would anticipate that such evidence would support a strong strategic fit.
Applicants are asked to demonstrate through the strategic case that their proposals strongly align with up to date local plan objectives. The highest possible score for the strategic case will generally be awarded to authorities that have:
- an up-to-date Local Plan in place (adopted within the last five years); or
- completed their Local Plan Review within the 5-year window and determined that their plan remains in date; or
- submitted their Local Plan for independent examination.
Evidence needs to be as precise and focused as possible referencing exact policies and objectives rather than broad policy areas/sections or whole documents. Ideally a description of policy names/numbers, a page reference to the document, plus a brief reasoning why they are relevant to the project should be provided.
Innovation carries 10 per cent of the overall weighting.
Projects will be assessed based on innovative models of delivery. Within this, all projects should articulate how they will demonstrate positive local economic impact where possible maximising the involvement of SMEs. Other areas of innovation could include:
- proposals to take forward development at pace
- proposals to work with private developers who are taking forward modern methods of construction/innovative design
- joint ventures
- joining-up across local authority boundaries
- a commitment to net-zero carbon opportunities
- self and custom build.
Public sector equality duty
The public sector equality duty carries 5 per cent of the overall weighting.
Projects that guarantee ownership or tenure for people who share one or more protected characteristics (as defined in the Equality Act 2010) in the local area, who struggle to attain appropriate housing, will be given a 5 per cent increase to their overall score. Examples could include guaranteed ownership or tenure:
- in areas where those sharing one or more protected characteristics have disproportionately low home ownership; and/or
- in areas where those sharing one or more protected characteristics suffer disproportionately from overcrowding.
Where applications have not been successful, we will work with councils to identify how these can be strengthened, or if there may be other opportunities for development that could be supported through further rounds of BLRF2. Where an application has passed the gateway criteria but was not funded due to higher prioritised projects, we would welcome a conversation with the council about how best to proceed for the further rounds of BLRF2 funding.