BTR disparity across London boroughs prominent, Lichfields finds

Lichfields has shared insights into the growth of London’s Build to Rent sector and how the capital’s planning policies are supporting it.

Lichfields has released insights from its latest report, ‘Planning for Rent – The application for Build to Rent policy in London | BTR News
Lichfields has released insights from its latest report, ‘Planning for Rent – The application for Build to Rent policy in London.

National consultants Lichfields has revealed through its ‘Planning for Rent – The application for Build to Rent policy in London’ insight report that planning policy across all boroughs is mixed and could do far more to provide a comprehensive or consistent basis for the delivery of new London Build to Rent schemes.

Demand for Build to Rent properties is rising and investor appetite is growing. This is driving a marked increase in Build to Rent planning permissions. A key finding highlights a stark inconsistency in how Build to Rent is addressed in Local Plan policy across the capital. Of the 35 local planning authorities in London, 46% make no reference to Build to Rent in their emerging or adopted Local Plans. 

“Our study into the Build to Rent sector in London offers a clear insight into the growth of this market and how planning policies are adapting. It’s evident that while the London Plan provides a robust and positive framework for Build to Rent, there is a need for individual boroughs to echo this support. Boroughs must adopt a more proactive approach and align their planning policies to genuinely harness the benefits of Build to Rent. In failing to do so, the Build to Rent sector in London is being detrimentally affected despite the high demand for secure, well managed rental properties. If local authorities developed a bespoke policy for Build to Rent developments, the sector would become a lot stronger and more stable, helping to meet the chronic housing need in the capital.”

Adam Donovan, Planning Director and report co-author, Lichfields

The London Plan provides a strong policy foundation for Build to Rent developments, but the support isn’t always maintained at the local borough level. 45% of bespoke Build to Rent sites are within inner London, and 41% of bespoke Build to Rent developments – secured via specific planning applications – are in just four boroughs: Brent, Newham, Ealing and Enfield.

The London Plan advocates for greater flexibility in design policies for Build to Rent schemes in comparison to traditional for sale schemes. However, Lichfield’s study indicates that this is not happening in practice. 50% of London’s Build to Rent projects were granted planning permission as Build for Sale residential developments but later managed by Build to Rent operators. 

“What is needed is a greater differentiation in development management policies and more flexibility in their application to assist in the delivery of Build to Rent schemes. Policies covering design standards, amenity space requirements and dwelling mix should reflect the specificities of Build to Rent. Build to Rent policy has come a long way in the last ten years as the sector has matured and continues to grow. However, the planning system at a local authority level could do far more to promote and facilitate Build to Rent developments in London. The opportunities presented by good quality Build to Rent developments in the right locations are significant in terms of housing delivery, affordable housing and London’s communities. With the right local policy in place, the Build to Rent market in London can thrive and, importantly, create a blueprint nationally for Build to Rent housing.  We must push the Build to Rent initiatives higher up the housing agenda, so they can positively contribute to housing delivery not just in London but nationwide.”

Ben Kelway, Senior Director and report co-author, Lichfields

The report also found that local borough policies consistently fail to differentiate between for sale housing and Build to Rent schemes, meaning applications for Build to Rent are assessed against policy designed for private sale developments.

This creates a requirement for each planning application for Build to Rent to provide individual justification, which makes the planning process for Build to Rent more complex than it should be. 

The Build to Rent Insight report reviewed Build to Rent planning applications which have been approved since 2009. It assessed the spatial distribution of these developments across the London boroughs, providing an analysis of how these development patterns align with policy.