INNOVATION IN HOUSING & PLANNING
Wokingham Viability Study
The Client
Wokingham Council
"This acceptable, pragmatic approach gives a clear indication that the policy will be applied flexibly, especially in a changing economic climate."
Extract from report on the examination into the Wokingham Borough Core Spatial Strategy Development Plan Document (File Ref: LDF 000315)
 
 
Overview
Wokingham issued a brief in January 2008 which identified the need to undertake an Affordable Housing Viability Study in January 2008. Levvel were appointed in March 2008 and the study took place over the following two months with the publication of the final report in June of that year. The study provided a robust evidence base for the Council's emerging core strategy. The Council's affordable housing policy drew on the detailed analysis which enabled the Council to take account of location, development type and size of site. The Examination in public of the Core Strategy took place in April 2009 and in preparation for this Levvel updated their study taking into account economic conditions. Levvel assessed possible future projections based on downside, middle and upside economic conditions in the property and land market. The inspector found this a useful exercise and support also came at the examination in public from both the private and the public sector for this approach. The Inspector supported the Council's evidence base and the core strategy was formally pronounced sound in October 2009. Levvel is continuing to undertake viability work on behalf of the Council in their assessment of Strategic Development Land considering the economic viability of 4 large sites in Wokingham.
The original study objectives issued by Wokingham Council in January 2008 were to:
  • assess the impact on economic viability of options for affordable housing
    policy with combinations of thresholds, % quotas, tenure mixes and grant
    assumptions;
  • provide a robust evidence base in order to support preparation of the Core Strategy, other LDF documents and any other planning policy documents relating to affordable housing.
Since the time of study, and in particular since September 2008, it was clear that the effect of both the general downturn in the economy and the knock-on effect that this had on the development industry (particularly the residential market) means that achieving affordable housing through the planning system presents a major challenge. Therefore, prior to the Examination in Public, Levvel considered the prospects of reductions in property values of the magnitude of up 50% from the height of the market at some time late in 2007 to a potential bottom of the market.
Key findings from the report were comprehensive and considered the economic viability of:
  • Sites above 15 dwellings;
  • Sites below 15 dwellings;
  • Rural development;
  • Strategic sites (sites over 2,000 dwellings) It also considered a number of sensitivities including:
  • The impact of tenure;
  • Different Affordable housing products;
  • Different S106 requirements;
  • Different levels of subsidy but using a nil subsidy position as a base.
Strategic Development Site Advice
Levvel has also reported on the Council's approach to the Strategic Development Land in the Borough. There are four significant strategic sites in the Borough which will be coming for the development life of the Core Strategy. Levvel is currently employed to consider the draft Supplementary Planning Document for these sites and testing their viability. This work is ongoing and Levvel will be submitting its final report on the specific viability of these sites in early January 2010.
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