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21 Mar
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Developing Housing on Employment Sites: A Beginner's Guide

The granting of residential planning permission on employment sites can present an excellent opportunity to increase land values and make higher returns on investments. In this blog we take a look at how this can be achieved and offer advice for those looking to profit.

What's the angle?

Although the allocation of employment sites is critical to realising long term development strategies within Local Planning Authority (LPA) areas, some sites may have been vacant for a period of time and have no genuine future in employment use. Releasing these sites for residential development can make a sustainable contribution towards the LPA's housing land supply, however, justifying the loss of employment land can be something of a challenge.

We have recently worked on a number of applications that approved building homes on sites which the Local Authority initial preferred to keep for employment development. Based on that experience, here is our advice for succeeding in such scenarios.

Understanding the wider context

As highlighted in a recent appeal decision in Northumberland, your chances of success will be significantly improved in situations where the LPA has both:

a) An undersupply of housing land; and
b) An oversupply of employment land.

It is likely that an Employment Land Report will be required to support any planning application, and we would advise having this prepared upfront. The report will need to draw out the above findings and assess the site's suitability for both future employment and residential land uses.

Marketing evidence

Most LPAs will require evidence of a comprehensive marketing exercise which demonstrates that the site is unsuitable for future employment uses. However, what constitutes ‘comprehensive' can vary, as highlighted within the following appeal decisions:

  • Uxbridge Road, Hillingdon (January 2013 - APP/R5510/A/12/2179209) In this case the Inspector accepted evidence relating to the unsuccessful marketing of the site for retail purposes. The evidence included various published advertisements by a local estate agent, along with a letter supplied from another estate agent stating that an assignee could not be found, and confirming that the property remained empty because of poor demand for Class A1 uses within this location.
  • Bassington Industrial Estate (August 2013 - APP/P2935/A/12/2188374) The Inspector in this appeal found that ‘the site has been marketed since September 2011 with no specified asking price. I am satisfied that the level of marketing has been sufficient to attract any potential purchasers. This evidence indicates that the market for employment land is currently relatively weak and there is little to show when the site would be significantly more attractive for employment use.'
  • Scaffold Hill Farm, Newcastle (July 2013 - APP/W4515/A/12/2186878) The Inspector agreed that as the site had been marketed on a continuous basis for over 14 years, ‘there is no realistic prospect of the land being delivered for employment uses'.

As these appeals show, there is no clear cut precedent regarding the requirement for marketing evidence (‘how long is a piece of string?' springs to mind), with different formats and periods of time being found acceptable in each case.

Within this context our advice for preparing evidence of marketing would be as follows:

  1. Agree boundaries with the LPA as to exactly what needs to be demonstrated through the marketing. This will avoid later queries and the request for additional evidence.
  2. Ensure that there are no gaps in time so that it can be demonstrated the marketing took place continuously over a specified period.
  3. Show that other land uses have been considered. This might mean showing that the site's details have been passed on to retail and public house agents, for instance.
  4. Keep a record and provide to the LPA full details of times, dates and contacts that the sales particulars were distributed to.
  5. Present the evidence in one digestible report, appending the evidence and highlighting key headlines.

Summary and advice

It's clear that opportunities do exist for employment sites to be released for housing, which could add significant value for the landowner/developer while enabling vacant sites to be brought back into productive use. However, due to the complexities surrounding the release of employment sites, it's certainly worth working with an experienced consultant to ensure that all relevant policy tests are addressed and a robust evidence base is assembled.

So whether you're looking to search for employment sites that could potentially be released for housing, or you're the owner of an employment site that you consider to be unsuitable for this purpose, get in touch with NJL Consulting today.

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