One Public Estate: Brownfield Land Release Fund (BLRF2) Round 1 details: July 2022

OPE brownfield land release June 2022 publication cover image
Up to £180 million Brownfield Land Release Fund 2 (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. Round one funding is now closed.

Key dates

Overview

One Public Estate (OPE) is a partnership between the Office of Government Property (OGP) in the Cabinet Office (CO), the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (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 in local areas.  

Since 2017, OPE has partnered with DLUHC to deliver the Land Release Fund (LRF) and subsequent Brownfield Land Release Fund (BLRF), a programme that enables councils to bring forward their surplus land for new homes. 

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 Brownfield Land Release Fund 2 (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. Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) are eligible, as are their constituent councils. 

The 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 the first £40m of BLRF2.

If you have projects that aren’t suitable for BLRF2, we encourage you to consider other funding sources, such as the Levelling-Up Fund, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and programmes administered by OPE and Homes England. 

OPE Partnerships are now invited to coordinate applications within their areas for BLRF2.
If you have projects that aren’t suitable for BLRF2, we encourage you to consider other funding sources, such as the Levelling-Up Fund, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and programmes administered by OPE and Homes England. 

To find out more about past BLRF projects, including case studies of successful projects, visit www.local.gov.uk/onepublicestate.

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

Introduction

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 will enable 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.

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

About the fund

Since 2017 LRF and BLRF have accelerated the release of council owned land for 2,308 homes to help increase the public sector contribution to land supply and drive innovation in housebuilding. The programme currently supports 284 council projects that are on track to release land for a further 13,000 homes. 

The programme is unique in targeting council-owned small sites that have been previously developed and where viability issues have prevented their development. BLRF 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.

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

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.

Following on from Self and Custom Build (SCB), 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. 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 and stimulate wider delivery of serviced plots, 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. 

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

How the fund will operate

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. Up to £40 million will be available in 2022/23. 

There is no fixed lower or upper limit for each application. As a guide, the average size of a BLRF project is 57 homes, while the median is 33 homes. Applications will need to detail and evidence their funding requirement against compliant capital costs.  

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

Timelines

BLRF2 Round 1 is now closed to applications.

The fund will be open for applications for three years with at least three assessment points during that time. Partnerships may submit an application at any time up to the assessment point. If an application is received later than the assessment point deadline it will be considered under the next one.

Assessment point one - 2022/23

The application timetable is as follows:

  • fund opens
  • £40 million available
  • first assessment point, deadline for applications - 23:59 19 August 2022
  • decision on applications and announcement of funding awards - Autumn 2022
  • land release milestone - 31st March 2026 . 

Future assessment points - 2023/24 and 2024/25

Future assessment points will be confirmed in due course. Indicative dates are outlined below. Please note these are given for illustrative purposes only and may be subject to change.  

2023/24

  • £60 million available
  • Assessment point two, deadline for applications - early Spring 2023
  • Decision on applications and announcement of funding awards - late Spring 2023
  • Land release milestone - to be confirmed 

2024/25

  • £80 million available
  • Assessment point three, deadline for applications - early Spring 2024
  • Decision on applications and announcement of funding awards - late Spring 2024
  • Land release milestone - to be confirmed.

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

Application criteria

BLRF2 is open to all councils across England, specifically: Borough, County, District, London Borough, Metropolitan Borough, Unitary Councils, the GLA and Mayoral Combined Authorities.

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. 

Our assessment will be based on the material provided within the application template, 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. 

We encourage applicants to review the FAQs provided, 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, FAQs, application form and other supporting documents as a whole, completing the application form and technical annex based on the guidance set out in this suite of documents.  

All applications will be jointly assessed by the OGP, LGA and DLUHC.

The evaluation process will follow three stages:

1. Eligibility criteria (pass/fail)

  • The land to which the application relates is defined as previously developed land (brownfield land).
  • The land is in council ownership.
  • The project must be undertaking capital works on council owned land only.
  • The project timings must ensure works contracts for BLRF2 funded activity are signed by 31 March 2023 and evidence of this can be provided by 14 April 2023.
  • The project must be able to release land by 31 March 2026. 
  • The council can demonstrate a general or specialised housing need. 
  • The council or OPE Partnership has informed relevant local MPs of proposed projects and agree to keep them informed of the progress of any application. 
  • The project meets One Public Estate’s pre-selection criteria (see below).

2. Gateway criteria (pass/fail)

Applications that meet the stage one eligibility criteria will progress to the gateway stage. This stage will consider:

  • evidence of value for money
  • evidence of market failure
  • evidence of deliverability and mitigation of risk.

3. Project prioritisation criteria

After applications have passed the eligibility and gateway criteria, they will be prioritised and assessed based on the following weighted criteria:

  • place based metrics (50 per cent)
  • strategic case (35 per cent)
  • innovation (10 per cent)
  • Public Sector Equality Duty (five per cent).

Further detail on each stage is outlined below. 

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

Eligibility criteria

Applications will only be considered if the following criteria are satisfied:

  1. The land to which the application relates is categorised as brownfield land, i.e. previously developed land (brownfield land) as defined in the Glossary (Annex 2) of the National Planning Policy Framework. 
  2. 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 the council owned land.
  3. The project must be undertaking capital works for council owned land only.
  4. The applicant must ensure any works contracts for BLRF2 funded activity are signed by 31 March 2023 and evidence of this should be provided to to OPE by 14 April 2023. All councils awarded funding will be required to sign a Grant Funding Agreement (GFA). (template GFA available to download shortly). 
  5. The project must be able to release land by 31 March 2026.
  6. The council can demonstrate a general or specialised housing need. 
  7. The council or OPE Partnership has informed relevant local MPs of proposed projects and agree to keep them informed of the progress of any application. 
  8. The OPE Partnership must: 
    1. operate an effective partnership board
    2. update all land and property assets (except social housing stock) owned by partnership councils and public sector partners on the ePIMS Lite system (or its successor) by 31 March 2023 and annually thereafter
    3. agree to adhere to reporting arrangements which provide data on project progress and benefits delivery updates
    4. include the council’s S151 officer or chief executive’s sign-off in the application.  

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

Gateway criteria

If the project passes the eligibility criteria, it will be considered against the following gateway criteria:

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

Project prioritisation criteria

If the project passes both eligibility and gateway criteria, it will be prioritised for funding using the following criteria:

Pale blue banner with abstract white graphics on it

Unsuccessful applications

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 later rounds of the fund. 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 future assessment points.

Monitoring requirements

All councils will be required to report on progress of their project. Councils will be required to report against 6 milestones three times a year.  They are:

1. Procurement of infrastructure works; Contractor Commencement Date. This refers to the Funded Works, i.e the infrastructure and remediation works the Grant supports, in accordance with the Bid

2. Commencement of BLRF funded works date. This refers to the first of the Funded Works, if multiple.

3. Completion of BLRF funded works date (last of the Funded Works, if multiple)

4. Date land is to be released
Land can be defined as “released” when:

i) An unconditional contract, development agreement or building license with a private sector partner is signed, or a freehold or leasehold transfer takes place

ii) Land has transferred to a development vehicle owned, or partly owned, by the local authority; or

iii) The point at which development begins on site if (a) and (b) have not happened. 

iv) In the case of self and custom-build, if (a), (b) or (c) do not apply, land is released when contracts are exchanged on the first plot.

5. Expected start on site (new homes)

A “start” is an excavation for strip or trench foundations or for pad footings; digging out and preparation of ground for raft foundations; vibro-flotation, piling, boring for piles or pile driving; or draining work specific to the scheme. 

6. Expected development end date (final housing unit completion).

A template Grant Funding Agreement which includes details on the reporting arrangements is available in the How to apply area.