One Public Estate: Brownfield Land Release Fund July 2022 - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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PLEASE BE AWARE THIS FUND IS NOW CLOSED.


Preparing your application

What should I do if I need help with my application?

If you are an OPE Partnership Lead you should contact your Regional Programme Managers before the deadline for any assistance.

If you are a council you should contact your OPE Partnership Lead. Information on your OPE partnership.

Who is eligible to apply for BLRF2?

BLRF2 is open to all councils in England, specifically: Borough, County, District, London Borough, Metropolitan Borough, Unitary Councils, constituent authorities within Mayoral Combined Authorities.

A council is required to be part of an OPE partnership to apply as applications are submitted through this route. If you are not already part of an existing OPE partnership, please contact the relevant Regional Programme Managers for your area.

Please make sure your application meets the eligibility and gateway criteria in the first instance. If you are not able to meet the criteria then your application will not be assessed.

Is there a limit to the number of applications an individual council can submit to their OPE Partnership?

No. We encourage councils to carefully consider the justification for the level of funding and number of applications seeking funding. Councils should also consider their ability to deliver should all applications be successful. Please liaise with your OPE partnership for guidance.

Are there any examples of the type of projects that have been funded in previous rounds?

You can find specific examples of previous BLRF/LRF projects in the OPE case study library.

Are there any links to resources, apart from the application documents that could help me with my application?

Yes. Below are links to some websites and resource hubs that may provide useful thinking when developing your application.

Is the recording of the BLRF2 webinar available online?

Yes.

Watch the BLRF2 webinar

Fund requirements

How does this fund differ from previous rounds of BLRF/LRF?
The fund aims to retain the impact and flexibility of previous schemes but places a greater emphasis on places that are considered to be in need of levelling up. This is reflected in the approach to assessment of applications particularly with respect to Value for Money, which would be beneficial to areas with lower residential land value.    
Can projects only be funded on brownfield land?

Yes - we are only accepting applications for funding for projects taking place on brownfield land.

What qualifies as brownfield land?

The definition of previously developed (brownfield) land in NPPF 2020 is ‘Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be assumed that the whole curtilage should be developed) and any associated fixed surface infrastructure. This excludes: 

  • land that is or was last occupied by an agricultural or forestry buildings 
  • land that has been developed for minerals extraction or waste disposal by landfill, where provision for restoration has been made through development management procedures
  • land in built-up areas such as residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and allotments
  • land that was previously developed but where remains of the permanent structure or fixed surface structure have blended into the landscape.
What types of housing can I deliver using the fund?

The fund allows councils to determine the type, tenure and delivery mechanism for the new homes, drawing on their understanding of local needs. There are no restrictions. Relevant ratios for housing tenures should be used as below:

Land released with capacity for housing should be quantified in the number of homes being delivered on the site. The following categories of homes can apply:

  • a market
  • an affordable or starter home
  • a self or custom-built home build to rent student accommodation (to note, 4 student rooms equates to 1 home)
  • key worker accommodation (including health and military service personnel and family accommodation provided this adds to the net housing supply)
  • retirement/care apartments (which count as dwellings/homes)
  • a care home (to note, 4 care home rooms is equivalent to 1 home).
How do we evidence a general or specialised housing need?

Local Authorities are required to regularly update their Housing and economic land availability assessment (HELAA). This will contain information on an area’s level of general housing housing need calculated by the use of the “Standard method”. This provides an unconstrained assessment of the number of homes needed in an area.  In the event that an authority only has a specialised need, such as affordable housing, the HELAA should also contain the necessary evidence to demonstrate this.  In most cases an extract of the relevant section(s) of the HELAA would be acceptable.

How is affordable housing defined?

Affordable housing is defined as being “Housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market (including housing that provides a subsidised route to home ownership and/or is for essential local workers)” and which complies with one or more of the definitions set by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which are outlined on the NPPF website.

What is the definition of ‘Land Release’?

Land is released when either:

  • an unconditional contract, development agreement or building licence with a private sector partner is signed or freehold transfer takes place (whichever is sooner), or; It has transferred to a development vehicle owned, or partly owned, by the council, this could be a council wholly owned housing delivery vehicle or a public–private joint venture, or
  • If either of the requirements above have not happened, the point at which development begins on site, or
  • 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.

One Public Estate defines start on site as actions such as excavation for strip or trench foundations or for pad footings, digging out and preparation of ground for raft foundations, vibrofication, piling, boring for piling or pile driving or drainage works specific to the scheme.

What is the minimum benefit cost ratio (BCR) a project must achieve for BLRF2?

Applications must achieve a “low/acceptable” value for money category. This is when a scheme is consistent with a benefit cost ratio (BCR) of 1.0 or above, after both the benefit cost ratio (BCR) and non-monetised impacts (NMIs) are taken into account. There is no minimum BCR only score for this assessment. Under BLRF2, this metric is a gateway criterion, where achieving this minimum value for money score allows a scheme to pass to the next stage of assessment.

What is meant by market failure?

Market failure occurs where the market alone cannot achieve an economically efficient outcome. In the case of BLRF2, this will occur where there is a need to provide remediation works or infrastructure that no developers would be able or willing to fund to make the land suitable for housing. Equally those works would have been deemed too costly by the (public sector) land owner creating a funding gap which leaves the site stalled and with no prospect of being released for housing. 

Through your application you should clearly demonstrate how the scheme addresses an existing market failure and the economic rationale for government funding intervention.

Please refer to the additionality assessment within the technical annex for further details on how the market failure will be considered.

It should only be considered a funding gap in the additionality assessment if it cannot be solved by:

  • reducing the proportion of affordable housing to the minimum level considered acceptable by the local authority
  • increasing the density of housing whilst still being acceptable by the local authority
  • changing other components of the build specification within the level acceptable within building regulations and that is acceptable to the local authority.

Where any viability/funding gap could be met by reasonable changes to the specification of the scheme the appraisal should set out how those changes have been considered and why they have been disregarded. Such reasoning would include compliance with a range of council policies and commitments.

What is meant by  released for homes?

The proposed number of new homes to be delivered minus any homes replaced. For example, if you are demolishing 100 homes and building 120 homes, the number of homes enabled by land released will be 20.

Would a portfolio of sites be eligible for funding?

No. Only single site applications are eligible. You may submit as many separate applications for sites as you wish.

Is a scheme still eligible if it requires additional funding to release the land?

In appraising costs we will only take account of any pre-development costs to central government. This will reflect both spending through BLRF2, and any other funding that is required from central government. This figure should be input to the technical annex. This will not reflect any money spent or recovered by the council. All costs and benefits will be discounted at the standard rate of 3.5 per cent p.a.

Can BLRF2 be used on sites where work has already started?

No. BLRF2 is for sites that show clear evidence of a market failure and are unable to progress without intervention. An explanation of market failure can be found within the FAQ question ‘What is meant by market failure?’

Does BLRF2 only apply to land, or could it be used on a site where buildings already exist and may need demolition or repurposing?

Both are eligible. Please refer to the definition of brownfield land above.

Do mixed-use sites qualify for BLRF2?

Yes. The technical annex will only take into account land released for housing, however inclusion of mixed-uses may support other areas of your application, such as strategic case.

Can community-led housing groups take on the development role?

Yes, if the land is in council ownership and there are upfront capital costs required to release the land: land would be considered released when contracts are exchanged on the first plot.

    What costs are eligible for funding?

    The BLRF2 funding will provide upfront capital investment in order to create a viable scheme and can cover abnormal costs that may include:

    • site levelling, groundworks, demolition, remediation
    • small-scale infrastructure
    • highways and access works
    • environmental constraints which may include off site works or mitigation.

    This is not an exhaustive list, your OPE Partnership lead or Regional Programme Manager can help with any specific queries for costs not listed above.

    What costs are not eligible for funding?

    The following are not eligible for funding through BLRF2:

    • revenue costs, such as professional fees, planning fees, highways inspection and management and project management
    • early stage feasibility studies
    • community engagement
    • off-site infrastructure unless directly related and proportionate to the scheme
    • design/planning costs
    • costs related to the construction of the housing.

    This is not an exhaustive list, your OPE Partnership lead or Regional Programme team can help with any specific queries for costs not listed above.

    What are non-monetised impacts?

    The Benefit Cost Ratio and initial Value for Money category is based on the benefits associated with Land Value Uplift (the net private benefits of development to the individuals and/or firms locating within the site area), and health and welfare benefits associated with the provision of additional affordable housing. There are likely to be other impacts which are difficult to monetise which should be taken into account when setting a final Value for Money Category

    For more information on NMIs, please see our NMI guidance which is available on our 'How to apply' page.

    Is there guidance on calculating the non-monetised impacts?

    Yes. The guidance document is available in on our 'How to apply' page.

    Should my application include non-monetised impacts (NMIs), if the benefit cost ratio (BCR) is already over 1.0?

    Value for Money is a gateway criterion and will not be competitively scored. We would encourage NMIs to be included where schemes have an illustrative benefit cost ratio close to 1.0. We reserve the right to amend an applicants’ existing use value adjustment and additionality assessment , which could in turn reduce the BCR below the qualifying gateway.

    What do you mean by self and custom build (S&CB)?

    The glossary to the NPPF defines self-build and custom-build housing as: Housing built by an individual, a group of individuals, or persons working with or for them, to be occupied by that individual. Such housing can be either market or affordable housing. A legal definition, for the purpose of applying the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 (as amended), is contained in section 1(A1) and (A2) of that Act.

    Will there be separate ring-fenced funding for self and custom build (S&CB) projects as in previous rounds of BLRF?

    No. Funding will not be ringfenced, but be mainstreamed as part of the overall BLRF2 funding available. In the wake of the Bacon Review and the Government’s support for the self and custom build (S&CB) sector, increasing S&CB delivery will remain part of BLRF2’s objectives.

    How is the ‘place based metric’ calculated for a council?

    Both deprivation and productivity data will be used to provide a place based metric score, which will be automatically applied to the application. Applicants are not required to provide evidence to support this element of the application.

    Further details of how this will be calculated are provided below:

    • Deprivation: the proportion of lower super output areas in a council that are in the 10 per cent most deprived lower super output areas nationally as per the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2019 – a widely used way of measuring deprivation. This enables the identification of areas with particularly concentrated deprivation that will benefit from holistic regeneration to address complex problems and provide a new economic purpose.
    • Productivity: Gross Value Added (GVA) per hour worked (2019), a widely used labour productivity measure. This enables the identification of areas that are performing less well economically than other parts of the country, and which will benefit from regeneration that creates spaces fit for the modern economy.

    The place based scores list can be found in our 'How to apply' page.

    Can a BLRF2 application be for one part of a larger project which involves multiple land owners?

    Yes. Applications can be part of wider projects or schemes, however the application should only relate to works which release land for housing on council owned land.

    Does planning permission need to be in place before applying for BLRF2?

    No. Planning permission (if appropriate for the site) is not a requirement at the point of application. However, if planning permission is a dependency for land release by the end of  March 2026, confidence in achieving this permission will be assessed  as part of the gateway criteria.

    What could help evidence a level of confidence around project deliverability?

    • allocated housing in a council’s local plan
    • outline planning consent granted and/or full application in the process of being submitted/considered
    • set within a development zone
    • exception site where there is an evidence of a level of confidence that will receive planning (if appropriate).
    What level of detail needs to be provided in the funding application to evidence the cost of works?

    If available, one quote would be sufficient, or otherwise an estimate with a short narrative as to how this was reached, for instance comparable costs for similar works or estimates using standard data sources.

    Is it expected that works/contracts funded by BLRF2 will need to be in contract by 31 March 2023?

    Yes, we expect contracts to be in place for works funded by the BLRF2 by 23:59 31 March 2023.

    Submitting your application

    Which forms need to be submitted?

    For each site, applicants must submit one:

    1. application form
    2. technical annex.

    Each OPE Partnership Lead must also submit one basic details form covering all projects submitted by the partnership.

    There is a checklist in the application form to ensure you have completed all the required documents. The documents will need to be submitted to the relevant OPE partnership for your area, as they will collate projects into one submission for assessment.

    How do I submit my application?

    Your application, along with any other councils within your OPE partnership area, will be collated by the OPE Partnership and submitted by the accountable body for the partnership. Individual councils will be required to complete the application form and technical annex for their specific project, which the relevant OPE partnership to collate

    What is the deadline for applications?

    Applications for the first assessment point of BLRF2 funding must be received from the lead council for the OPE partnership to onepublicestate@local.gov.uk by 23.59 19 August 2022. Late or incomplete applications will not be accepted.

    You should speak directly with your relevant OPE partnership as the deadline for submitting your application to your OPE partnership lead will be earlier, to allow the accountable body for the partnership to collate and submit applications as one submission from across the partnership area. 

    More information on ‘How do I submit my application’ can be found in this FAQs

    When will the funding awards be announced?

    Funding announcements for the first assessment point of BLRF2 are expected to be made in Autumn 2022. BLRF2 grants (capital) are paid under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, s.126 (Grant paid with the consent of Her Majesty’s Treasury) and are awarded directly to the council in which the project sits.

    What is the maximum file size the OPE mailbox can receive in one email?

    The maximum size the OPE mailbox can receive in one email is 25 MB.  We can accept zip files, and if required multiple emails for an OPE Partnership application – for clarity please make sure the subject line includes ‘Email 1 of x’

    Is there a preferred naming convention for files and attachements submitted as part of a BLRF2 funding application?

    The preferred file naming conventions are:

    Basic Details Form:

    • Partnership name BDF
    • e.g Berkshire OPE Partnership BDF

    Application form:

    • Partnership name_AF_Local
    • e.g Berkshire OPE
      Partnership_AF_West_Berkshire Council_Willow Close

    For any appendices to the application form:

    • Partnership name_AF_Local_Authority_name of scheme_appendix1_
    • e.g_Berkshire OPE
      Partnership_AF_West_Berkshire Council_Willow Close_Viability Assessment

     

    Delivery and monitoring requirements

    What are reasonable changes to a project and what justification would there be for them to be disregarded when identifying a variability gap ?
    Reasonable changes to the specification of the scheme would involve changing the specification of any final scheme to reduce any additional costs associated with those requirements, for example reducing the level of affordable housing from 100 per cent to policy compliant.  The justification for disregarding such a change could be based on site specific circumstances and/or a wider Council policies or objective for an area for example a resolution that the Council would seek to maximise affordable housing in all Council owned sites or similar policy objectives.   
    Is there a deadline for delivery of housing following the release of land?
    • The project timings must ensure contracts for BLRF2 funded activity are able to be signed within the current financial year.
    • The project must be able to release land by 31 March 2026.
    • There is no deadline for delivery of housing following the release of land, but ideally house-building should be complete within two years of the land being released.
    What happens if my project faces delays?

    Applications should aim to offer confidence in delivery. Any changes to project plans or outputs during the delivery period must be agreed in writing by programme partners, OPE Regional Programme Team and DLUHC. If, after the award of funding and before the release of land, the scheme is no longer able to meet these criteria, DLUHC will consider whether it can continue to support the project. If DLUHC determines that it can no longer support the project, it will request the return of funding.

    How should the application address possible cost inflation ?

    Your cost estimate should use a base date for tender prices based on the projected start date for the works to take place. Sources such as BCIS recognise projected increases in both material and labour costs in future years.

    Is there a limit on the amount of funding that can be applied for per housing unit?
    There is no limit on the amount of funding that can be applied for. However funding requests should be proportionate to the scheme and benefits forecast, against identified and compliant capital costs.

    As a guide, in the previous round of BLRF funding, the average amount awarded per project was c£570,000, with land released for an average of 57 homes per project.

    Is there a minimum number of housing units that an application can include?
    No. However all projects seeking funding would need to show clear justification in their application for the number of homes being released.
    What are the reporting requirements for the BLRF2 programme?

    There are 6 milestones which councils are required to meet and must be reported on 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:

    1.  An unconditional contract, development agreement or building license with a private sector partner is signed, or a freehold or leasehold transfer takes place
    2. Land has transferred to a development vehicle owned, or partly owned, by the local authority; or
    3. The point at which development begins on site if (a) and (b) have not happened. 
    4.  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)

    1. 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.

    Future funding opportunities

    Will I be eligible to reapply if unsuccessful in this assessment point?
    Where applications have not been successful at a particular assessment point, 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.
    When will further assessment points of BLRF open?

    Over the next three years (2022 - 2025) there will be at least three assessment points where applications for BLRF2 funding will be eligible for submission to OPE. Illustrative dates for future assessment points are detailed in the fund details under ‘timelines’.