Frequently asked questions about the Brownfield Land Release Fund (BLRF2) Round 2
Preparing your application
- What should I do if I need help with my application?
If you are applying from a council, please contact your OPE Partnership Lead or your Regional Programme Manager in the first instance.
You can find details of your local OPE Partnership on our website.
- 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. Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) are eligible, as are their constituent councils. Please note this relates to just the GLA and does not comprise the whole GLA Group.
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 note your application needs to meet 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 any further.
- Is there a limit to the number of applications an individual council can submit?
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, or Regional Programme Manager for guidance.
- Are there any examples of the type of projects that have been funded in previous rounds?
Some examples of projects funded by BLRF2 in Round 1 include:
- Hull – £175,000 will release land to deliver 10 new affordable homes for the local community, as part of the city’s regeneration drive.
- Mid-Devon – a total of £280,000 will release land for two modular, affordable housing sites in Tiverton and Cullompton to build 14 quality, low-carbon homes for the community.
- Great Yarmouth – £219,155 for one of two successful projects will boost the city centre by helping to transform old industrial buildings into 32 high-quality affordable homes, turning the area into a vibrant place for people to live.
You can find specific examples of previous BLRF/LRF projects in the OPE case study library, and your OPE partnership will also be a good source of information.
- 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.
- Homes England: government’s housing accelerator
- Homes England online webinars: recordings of webinars designed to support councils when building homes
- Right to Build Task Force: information and support for self and custom build
In addition we will be running a workshop on 2 February 2023 to support you to complete your application. Recordings of these events will be available shortly after they have taken place. Please register via Eventbrite.
- Is the recording of the BLRF2 webinar available to watch?
Yes. You can watch it below.
- How does this fund differ from previous rounds of BLRF/LRF?
- BLRF2 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?
Land that meets the National Planning Policy Framework definition of previously developed (brownfield) land:
‘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.
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?
Councils 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 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.
To note, in our Basic Details Form, we define “social rent” as rents that are 30-60 per cent of market rents, and “affordable rent” as rents that are 80 per cent of market rent.
- What is the definition of ‘Land Release’?
Please refer to the Draft Grant Funding Agreement for the formal definitions of land release.
Land can be defined as “released” when:
a) An unconditional contract, development agreement or building licence with a private sector partner is signed, or a freehold or leasehold transfer takes place
b) Land has transferred to a development vehicle owned, or partly owned, by the local authority; or
c) The point at which development begins on site if (a) and (b) have not happened.
d) 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 the development 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. Any assessment can include a level of profitability for potential developers based on standard market expectations in relation to project risk. We would not normally expect this to exceed 20 per cent profit on costs.
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 council
- increasing the density of housing whilst still being acceptable by the council
- changing other components of the build specification within the level acceptable within building regulations and that is acceptable to the council.
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. Please contact your OPE Regional Programme Manager for further advice on market failure.
- 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. Sites that are divided by roads can be considered a single site provided these do not create a significant barrier between parcels of land and sites would be otherwise contiguous. You may submit as many separate applications for sites as you wish. The single site can be part of a larger development/regeneration programme, however BLRF2 funding can only be used to support the council-owned brownfield land portion within it.
- 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 into 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. We would however consider applications from projects where site investigations have commenced and uncovered unanticipated issues such as contamination meaning projects have become unviable. BLRF2 is for sites that show clear evidence of a market failure and are unable to progress without intervention. We would not be able to meet any costs that have already been committed. An explanation of market failure can be found within the FAQ question ‘What is meant by market failure?’
- Can I apply for additional funding to an existing B/LRF project?
No, existing B/LRF projects are not eligible for additional funding.
- 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 as long as the land is brownfield. 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 the 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
- provision of small-scale infrastructure
- highways works or other access challenges
- addressing environmental constraints
- external works, substructure and piling
- asbestos removal
- sewer diversions.
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 including revenue cost associated with site activation
- 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 Manager 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 the '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
- How do I complete the Basic Details Form?
The Basic Details Form has been updated for this funding round (BLRF2 Round 2) so that it is easier to complete. Each project has its own tab where all project information should be inputted. The Partnership Declaration tab must then be completed by the accountable body for the OPE partnership on behalf of all the projects being applied for. You must ensure that the project name within the BDF is an exact match for the project name on the Technical Annex. One BDF must be submitted per OPE partnership with all projects included.
Please note if successful, we will usually publish the project name and funding amount.
- 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 ring-fenced, but be mainstreamed as part of the overall BLRF2 funding available. BLRF2 will continue to support councils to bring forward serviced self and custom build plots on brownfield land where this can be delivered in line with the fund criteria and will be reflected in the assessment of the scheme. Specifically, OPE will look to support councils who can provide replicable exemplars for delivery of serviced plots for self and custom-build housing on council land as well as demonstrating support to the SME sector.
- 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 on the '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.
- What does a good strategic case look like?
Please refer to our application form, which contains guidance on how to complete your strategic case. Prospective applicants are invited to attend a workshop on 2 February 2023 for support with completing the application form. Details on how to register are provided within the FAQ called: ‘Are there any links to resources, apart from the application documents that could help me with my application’.
- 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 31 March 2027, confidence in achieving this permission will be assessed as part of the gateway criteria.
The below factors could help evidence confidence in 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).
- Can my application include a contingency within my costs?
Generic contingency for a project is not eligible - please refer to FAQ concerning cost inflation.
- Are other public sector landowners eligible to bid?
This fund has been designed to support councils to release their brownfield sites for housing delivery, therefore other public sector landowners are not eligible to bid. Colleagues at DLUHC are happy to discuss specific queries with partners and contact details can be provided on request.
- Do the funded works have to be undertaken by the council?
Funded works can be undertaken by the council or development partners including any Joint Venture (JV) partners or contractors
- What scale of projects is the BLRF2 focusing on?
The average size of projects for previous rounds is set out in the fund details under the Section How is the Fund Operating. BLRF2 Round 1 schemes were a median size bid of 29 homes and a mean bid of 53 homes.
There is no lower limit for site size. For schemes requiring over £750,000 we require a RICS Red Book compatible valuation or a valuation that uses a very similar methodology to demonstrate a viability gap. This can be an in-house valuation provided it is to the same standards as an external valuation, in writing and signed off by someone independent from the subject project in the funding application. For larger schemes where funding above £2 million is requested we seek significant assurance on delivery and risk.
Councils will not be capped at a certain number of successful bids, or a total maximum grant amount but we would need to be assured that councils have sufficient resource to deliver each of the projects that has been put forward if successful on all. Councils should be mindful that the land release deadline is consistent across all projects and therefore will need to demonstrate ability to deliver all schemes by that deadline.
- Does the BLRF2 only support affordable housing? What about mixed use schemes?
Any type of housing output from the scheme be that market or affordable housing and including private build to rent, would be eligible. There is a separate FAQ containing advice on mixed use schemes and we would approach projects such as live work units in a similar manner.
- Can BLRF2 be used in conjunction with other government fund such as Towns Fund?
Yes, but if any other government funding is required to meet the viability gap preventing the release of the BLRF2 site, it must be included in the VfM assessment. Please include all other additional central government funding sources (excluding Homes England/GLA Affordable Housing Programme grant) that are required to meet any viability gap for the release of the land in the Technical Annex and in the evidence of Market Failure.
Where funding decisions are pending at the point of application this funding should still be included in the Technical Annex. All funding source details, expected decision date and relationship to BLRF2 Round 2 scheme (i.e. are they unlocking the same site) should be specified in the application form.
Any other government funding declared in the value for money assessment, only needs to be for works which support the release of land in the same site boundary. Any wider works which do not support the release of land for housing are not required. It should be clear how any funded works contribute to the overall viability gap.
The deliverability and risk portion of the application must consider the implications of not securing wider funding on the delivery of the site and provide mitigations in place in this eventuality.
Your Regional Team can provide further advice and support on how to reference these sources in both the bid and Technical Annex. Further detail on other funding sources is also provided in the Technical Annex.
- What works can be funded through BLRF2?
Please see the FAQ question What Costs are Eligible for Funding.
We can only fund capital works and not resource expenditure, such as project management costs or other professional fees. Speak to your OPE regional team if there are works which are integral to the capital works, such as an asbestos survey before removal, so they can provide guidance on acceptability.
- Can the site/project be delivered by a development partner?
The land must be in council ownership at point of application, but the route to delivery of the homes is something for the council to determine and can include disposal to the market directly. Further info is included in the FAQ question What is the definition of ‘land release’ that sets out what the criteria for land release are when working with partners. We consider that signatory of a building licence/lease is equivalent to an unconditional contract.
- Would a bid where infrastructure quotes reflect allowances for inflation and contingency be acceptable?
We would consider costs where quotes from contractors to undertake works have taken reasonable inflation into account that reflects the date when works will commence. Where costs are based on professional estimates, rather than specific quotes, we would accept inflation based on a recognised data source such as the Buildings Cost Information Service. We would not support any general levels of contingency applied to the overall project budget.
Where any inflation allowance is applied the date to which future costs are being forecast must be stated and fully align with the proposed construction programme.
- Is funding at 100% of these abnormal costs, or do they require match funding from the councils?
Match funding is not required.
Submitting your application
- Which forms need to be submitted?
For each site, applicants must submit one application form, and one 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.
- 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 attachments 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
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_
Partnership_AF_West_Berkshire Council_Willow Close_Viability Assessment
- How should the Council or OPE partnership inform the relevant MP?
Councils or Partnerships must notify the MP where the proposed site is located by email or letter. If the site crosses two constituency boundaries please notify both MPs. Please note the requirement is that MPs are informed, rather than seeking endorsement or approval.
- 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 and submit to their OPE partnership, who will then complete the basic details form on behalf of the partnerships and submit the application
- What is the deadline for applications?
Applications to BLRF2 Round 2 are now closed.
You should also 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.
- When will the funding awards be announced?
Funding announcements for the first assessment point of BLRF2 are expected to be made in Summer 2023. BLRF2 grants (capital) are paid under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, s.126 (Grant paid with the consent of His Majesty’s Treasury) and are awarded directly to the council in which the project sits.
Funding awards to councils will be published on the OPE website and at gov.uk
Delivery and reporting requirements
- What are reasonable changes to a project and what justification would there be for them to be disregarded when identifying a viability 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 Round 2 funded activity are able to be signed by 31 March 2024 and evidence returned to OPE by 12 April 2024.
The project must be able to release land by 31 March 2027.
There is no deadline for delivery of housing following the release of land, but ideally house-building should be complete within 2 years of the land being released.
- What happens if my project faces delays?
Applications should aim to offer confidence in delivery. If successful, any subsequent 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.
Applicants should recognise the potential for cost inflation between the date of application and the delivery of works and should base cost estimates on the projected delivery period. The BLRF programme will not cover cost overruns.
- Is there a limit on the amount of funding that can be applied for per housing unit?
- BLRF2 is aimed at small and medium-sized sites that can release land swiftly with funding support. There is no fixed lower or upper limit for each application in terms of homes or site size. As a guide however, the average size of a successful BLRF2 Round One project was 53 homes, while the median was 29 homes. We would expect the majority of applications to be under £2m. Should a council feel there is a strong strategic case for a larger application, exemplary evidence of the deliverability, risk management and project governance approaches to assure land release by 31 March 2027 will be required.
- 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 if my application is successful?
All councils will be required to report on progress of their project. Councils will be required to report against 6 milestones three times a year. They are:
1) Procurement of infrastructure works: Contractor Commencement Date. This refers to the Funded Works, ie 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:
- An unconditional contract, development agreement or building license with a private sector partner is signed, or a freehold or leasehold transfer takes place
- Land has transferred to a development vehicle owned, or partly owned, by the local authority; or
- The point at which development begins on site if (1) and (2) have not happened.
- In the case of self and custom-build, if (1), (2) or (3) do not apply, land is released when contracts are exchanged on the first plot.
5) Expected start on site (new homes)
- 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).
Future funding opportunities
- Will I be eligible to reapply if unsuccessful in this round?
- Where applications have not been successful at a particular round, 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 the last round 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 further rounds of BLRF2.
- When will further rounds of BLRF2 open?
Illustrative dates for further rounds are detailed in the fund details webpage under ‘timelines’.