Building a new house

6 steps to develop a small London site

Advise on how the GLA “Policy H2 Small Sites” can work for you


The Greater London Authority (GLA) is putting small sites front and centre in the new Draft London Plan as a key to solving the ongoing housing crisis.

The GLA estimates that the city can provide vast number of small sites. Therefore the draft Plan expects 38% of the overall annual housing target (24,573 homes) to be delivered on small sites in the next ten years. Importantly this is a large number of new housing and if it is to be achieved, self-builders, developers and city councils need to work together.

Below I will list out some of the hurdles that small site developers will need to tackle.

1. Finding a site

The sites that this policy refers to are in effect small urban infill sites. These could be gaps between buildings, end of a large garden, excess traffic spaces etc.
Some people are lucky and already have a small parcel of developable land within their property. Therefore they have an opportunity to sell or develop this for a small infill house.

Purchasing land has its own challenges. And one problem is recent development focus on high-end and expensive property. Hence this has given people unrealistic ideas of the value of their land. It is not uncommon for property owners to price their land at 70-80% of the retail value of the finished development.

Not taking into account the costs of design, financing and construction, the house builder will also want a profit from the development. Consequently land owners need to be realistic. A rule of thumb is that land value is approximately 1/3 of the full construction budget (with planning permission). Incidentally, property owners have the opportunity to offer their land as an investment into the project and where they share the profit from the development.

2. Architecture

Any developer of small sites needs to involve a good quality architect. Due to most sites having their own specific problems that need to be solved in an imaginative way. Therefore a high quality architecture will please the neighbours while imaginative approaches will make it harder for the local planning department to reject the proposal. Design is one of the core principals of the National Planning Policy Framework. So do commission a good architect, and get them involved early.

3. Getting planning

As most people know, the planning system in the UK is not fit for purpose. And unfortunately the development of small sites is not exempt from the system. Owing to the fact that most small sites are usually in awkward positions and infill sites are usually very close to neighbours. House builders should therefore expect long and extensive design and planning period in order to get the development approved.

For a long time, high-rise developments have been the primary method for house building in London. However, these have been proven to be problematic. This includes reduction in quality and social housing, mass housing purchases by speculators and land hording. Small and medium developments are therefore seen as a countermeasure to larger projects. This new political and strategic policy of small is not yet supported by local planning officers who tend to get lost in the detail rather than administering the strategy.

4. Neighbours

Every planning application in the UK needs to go to a neighbourhood “consultation”, most often referred to as neighbours’ complaints procedures. Reasong being that neighbours that like, or are indifferent to proposals will not bother to “consult” with the council.

Neighbours who are affected, bored, or simply hate new buildings, will spend time and often money in an effort to stop the development. Leading to Planning Departments almost solely receiving negative comments on new developments. Therefore complaints are used as direct instructions to the developer with little evaluation. House builders need to make contact with the neighbours early on in order to establish good relationships with them and minimise negative affect on the development..

5. Construction

With a successful planning application, the next step is to select a good contractor and start construction. Here small sites offer unique issues that need to be solved: Where are there site accommodations for the contractors? Where will material be stored and how to deliver material and work the site with minimal affect on traffic and neighbours. Here an experienced and imaginative builder and architect can find innovative solutions.

Some things to consider are off-site manufacturing and construction, materials and structural solutions. All these need to be solved at the early stages of design.

6. Costs

We have touched on the costs above, but it is worth baring in mind that the costs of site, and design are proportionally going to be higher than in similar large-scale projects. The solutions to some of the issued raised, such as planning and construction methods will require substantial and early design work. Above what is normally expected.


These are some broad stroke matters that need to be considered if Small Sites are to become successful. Some of these might seem like large hurdles, but the right help will make the process much smoother. The most exciting thing with small site development is the individual character of each development. For self-builders, this is an opportunity to get a home tailored to their lifestyle.

For further information, please contact our office directly.

Notes on policy:

Excessive land valuation is hindering development and promoting speculations. One solution is for the government to make a serious consideration of expanding the use of compulsory purchase orders and its associated land valuation.

As with other planning issues, the Government is long overdue to re-structure the planning system. Planners need to stop regarding of themselves as architects or second clients.

The government needs to become brave enough to change the “Neighbourhood Consultation/Complaints” procedures. We can not keep running the planning system based on NIMBYism.


By Gudjon Thor Erlendsson

© 2019 Gudjon Thor Erlendsson, all rights reserved.