Successive governments have struggled to meet the demand for new homes in the UK. While developers need to build more homes overall, they are also required to deliver affordable housing and pay for infrastructure improvements such as new roads and schools. Yet developers sometimes argue that providing these additional benefits can make a residential development economically ‘unviable’. Planners can have a hard job to encourage housebuilding while also insisting that developers create more affordable homes, especially when officials may lack the expertise or information to challenge the land valuations and economic assessments submitted by developers.

The University of Reading’s Development Viability within Planning research programme aims to determine the exact issues within the valuation process which are enabling developers to reduce their obligations. The researchers have identified weaknesses in policy and illustrated how the process and practice of viability testing can be manipulated by developers or landowners.

The team has been working to inform policy and practice at local and national level. They have carried out research for the Department of Communities and Local Government and responded to their consultations on the Housing White Paper. They are producing professional guidance for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, have given evidence to the London Assembly and to a recent High Court case on viability testing, and research they carried out for 13 London Boroughs has won a Royal Town Planning Institute prize.

As this high-profile debate continues to evolve, the Reading team will continue to engage with stakeholders across the planning and development process to ensure that the arguments are based on sound evidence

Team members: Neil Crosby, with Patrick McAllister, Sarah Sayce, Ed Shepherd, Emma Street, Peter Wyatt

Partners: Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Three Dragons, Ramidus Consulting, Royal Agricultural University, Kingston University

Judges’ comments: “The research is adding objective evidence to underpin the debate in an important area of economic policy”

Shortlisted for the University Research Engagement and Impact Awards 2018

First published: June 2018