West of England OPE Partnership: Small sites programme

The challenge

The West of England is set to be the first area in the country to achieve formal adoption of a joint spatial plan, demonstrating the strong partnership between the four unitary authorities of Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, underpinned by the new West of England Combined Authority. The West of England joint spatial plan includes ambitious targets such as the delivery of 105,000 new homes and 82,500 new jobs between 2016 and 2036.

The West of England OPE Partnership brings together existing OPE partnerships led by three of the four unitary authorities (Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire) along with Bath & North East Somerset and the West of England Combined Authority. This provides a unique opportunity to explore property and estates collaboration at scale, with ambition, and involving a broader range of partners. This will help the whole area to address its significant housing need as well as driving efficiencies from the public sector estate, joining-up service delivery and supporting economic growth.

The vision

Opportunities to deliver major housing schemes are already being taken forward across the West of England, and the newly formed OPE partnership provides the mechanism to do more at scale than the individual partnerships could achieve working independently. It also provides a mechanism for Bath & North East Somerset to benefit from the OPE initiative.

Given the pressure to deliver new homes, the four authorities have challenged themselves to re-consider a large number of smaller potential sites for housing, which could otherwise be overlooked. Addressed in isolation, these sites would not always attract the necessary level of internal resource to bring them to fruition. The four councils recognise that there is an opportunity to aggregate these small sites under a single programme on a large enough scale to unlock dedicated resource, releasing sites for development of new homes.

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This innovative approach will significantly accelerate the development of these small sites and will result in greater efficiencies and a more streamlined delivery process. At the same time, this will provide a framework for the development of other small sites going forward, both within and outside of council ownership. It may also act as a trigger for creating and accelerating a unified approach towards delivery models such as community-led housing and self-build.


The West of England partners were successful in bidding for £235,000 of funding through OPE phase six to develop a small sites delivery strategy. The small sites programme is expected to release around 80 sites, comprising 33 hectares, to deliver around 830 new houses across the area, which the partnership estimates will generate £9 million in capital receipts.

Next steps Governance will be established for the small sites programme which can be used to test and shape the planned West of England Joint Assets Board. The small sites delivery strategy under development will confirm the sites to be included in the programme and test their viability.

The development of the small sites strategy will provide a significant opportunity to bring on board other partner organisations with small sites of their own, including central government departments, health partners, blue light services and the higher and further education sector, further maximising the impact of the aggregated approach.

The partners recognise that a broad range of approaches and delivery models need to be considered. The small sites strategy will establish the appropriate delivery mechanisms to bring each site forward for housing development, which may include:

• community-led schemes

• self-build

• local authority housing companies

• small and medium-sized enterprises-led

• registered providers/housing revenue accounts

• Homes England.

The strategy will evaluate the sites within the proposed programme, determine the optimum delivery route for each and draw up a delivery plan and funding strategy, including governance arrangements. Innovation and accelerated delivery will remain at the heart of the programme.

Bristol City Council Deputy Mayor, Councillor Craig Cheney, said: “This is another great example of collaboration across the West of England. Through partnership working we are developing an innovative, cohesive and joined-up approach to local housing delivery. Our successful bid will enable us to look carefully at suitable sites for development that provide homes and commercial opportunities, bringing much needed accommodation and investment opportunities to the area. There is now the potential for the four local authorities to collaborate with a range of organisations including community organisations, universities and the business sector. We hope that we can develop a delivery model that can be replicated, bringing far reaching benefits across the region.”