What conveyancers really need to know about SHLAAs

tmgroup spoke to Paul Addison, Managing Director of DevAssist about Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments (SHLAAs), and how understanding where there is development potential is just as critical as advising clients on current planning applications.

Nearly ⅓ of properties have a high risk of development in their proximity

I think the first thing you really need to know is that nearly ⅓ of the property purchases you are consulting on, have a high risk of development in their proximity. Furthermore, this risk is not always made clear, so if this risk is unknown to the client at the point of purchase, are you responsible? 

You could well be. In an economic climate where we are all increasingly risk averse, a risk of unforeseen development for your clients is a risk to you. Claims against Professional Indemnity are one of the most common contributory factors to solicitors going out of business. 

‘95% of homebuyers are concerned about unforeseen development in their neighbourhood.’ (Institute of Economic Affairs)

Purchasing a property, only to discover too late that there is a significant risk of development nearby, can and does result in clients taking legal action against their solicitors. Unfortunately, we’ve only seen the rate of these claims increasing. Clients are placing responsibility for interpreting planning data, with their conveyancer. The landmark case which really shifted the perspective across the whole industry was the Bird & Bird case in back in 2014. 

Law firm Bird & Bird had been instructed to purchase a high value property in North London. However, they had failed to disclose to the client that a planning report had contained information regarding a substantial development planned nearby. The client did not learn of this development until after the contract had been signed and deposit to the vendor paid. Upon discovery, they pulled out of the sale and took Bird & Bird to court to recoup costs invested so far. Ironically, the development was nearby but would not have adversely affected their property. In court, Bird & Bird took the stance that they were not under any duty to provide the report. Regrettably, having felt they had followed protocol correctly, the judge took the side of the client. Bird & Bird lost the case and were ordered to pay £1.8m in damages plus interest.

So how do you protect your firm and your reputation?

My advice to conveyancers is always the same. You need to be accessing all the data available to you and not relying on planning data reports alone. Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments (SHLAAs) are a land viability exercise undertaken by local councils. This assessment of land availability identifies a future supply of land which is suitable, available and achievable for housing and economic development uses. This is an activity taking place in all of our local neighbourhoods with a real risk of impacting us all, but so little attention is paid to them. This is of course great news for developers, but worrying for homeowners. For those that aren’t yet in the know; 

The assessment will:

• identify sites and broad locations with potential for development;

• assess their development potential;

• assess their suitability for development and the likelihood of development coming forward (the availability and achievability).

How does this affect you and your clients? 

Sites that have undergone this assessment are significantly more likely to be approved for planning permission. However, here’s the real catch, SHLAA’s are not reported in standard searches or planning data. If your firm only commissions the basic searches, you will be missing vital information regarding potential development. 

In addition to this, the planning data you receive is usually provided as raw data. This makes the data complex to interpret and in my experience, doesn’t give you the full picture. 

Important development insight is contained in the planning data but often, any risks of development to the property you are interested in, are not easily identified. This is due to the geo-coding of the data, making the proximity of planned developments to the property of interest, unclear.  It is often the case that planning data will identify a development proposal in the neighbourhood, but mislead you about how near that development is to a subject property. On a planned development of 2,000 homes, the geo-coding could be set to any point on that large acreage – likely some distance from the property you’re looking at. When in reality, the development is going to extend as far as the bottom of your client’s garden. 

The only way to extract the real risk of, or proposed development and its proximity to a property, is to assess the planning data alongside the SHLAA research. 

How likely is it that your clients will be affected by unforeseen development? 

Very. Particularly in the ever-shifting and evolving urban environments. Our research indicates that purchasers and investors have a 20% chance of experiencing major or significant change in London. In Manchester, this rises to 42%. We can’t always avoid development or the risk of it, but we can be better informed. 

Rooms without a view

Just last month in Folkestone, we were commissioned to deliver a report on a subject property which enjoyed uninterrupted sea views. The apartment was to be a retirement home and the views were the primary attraction for the buyer. We identified two high risk development proposals, just metres from the property. One of these proposals had already received planning permission. The approved development was for a large modern apartment block that would obstruct the sea views entirely from the property – see image below. 

These developments were not picked up in the standard conveyancing searches that had already been undertaken.

It’s not just the sea views under threat of course. We recently delivered a report for clients in Warrington. The property was a country cottage that boasted enviable rural views and a quiet location.

Our report ascertained that there was a real risk of development in the immediate vicinity of the property. Our report identified that the area as a whole has been considered for Garden City Suburb development and that one site, bordering the subject property had already been promoted through the SHLAA process. This insight wouldn’t have been exposed in standard conveyancing searches and was critical to the client’s decision on whether to proceed with the purchase.

Be informed 

I feel passionately that you can only take responsibility for the information, if you have the full picture. If your searches do not contain SHLAA data, you are missing a vital piece of the puzzle. This omission of data has been a source of huge frustration for me over the years and hence the establishment of my own company in this field. 

Discovering unforeseen development is not a rarity either. You and your clients will be impacted by development, as we are a small island in dire need of more housing! However, we can be more informed about our changing neighbourhoods, and in turn make more informed decisions when it comes to buying properties.

For more information about DevAssist, visit www.devassist.co.uk or get in touch with your tmgroup Account Manager.