How to use SHLAA to identify new opportunities

Picture of Olga Karasavova

Olga Karasavova
May 16, 2022
Read time: minute(s)

If you’re not familiar with SHLAA, it may seem like just one of the many tricky to pronounce acronyms that make up the development planning world. 

But it’s so much more than that. 

SHLAA can help unlock new opportunities for resi developers and drastically speed up your site sourcing process. 

So let’s take a look at what it is and why it matters in a bit more detail. 


What is SHLAA?

Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment, commonly referred to as SHLAA, is the process undertaken by each Local Planning Authority in England to identify which sites in the area have the potential for residential development.

SHLAA was introduced as part of the National Planning Policy Framework and each Local Planning Authority is required to create one to inform their Local Plan and indicate the viability of the five-year land supply. 

The aim of all Land Availability Assessments is to map out a future supply of land which is suitable, available and achievable for housing and economic development uses over the plan period. 

SHLAA takes into consideration any nearby constraints, potential timeframes for development,  and how many dwellings can be built on the site – national guidance notes that SHLAA should only include sites that can fit five-plus dwellings. 

There are also many other (equally hard to say) acronyms that fit under the Land Availability Assessment:

  • HELAA – Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment
  • ELAA – Employment Land Availability Assessment
  • SHELAA – Strategic Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment
  • HLAA – Housing Land Availability Assessment
  • SLAA – Strategic Land Availability Assessment

Each of these caters to a slightly different area of the market, but SHLAA is normally the first port of call for resi developers. 


Why should you care? 

SHLAA data can help you identify potential sites that are earmarked for development and are, therefore, theoretically easier to get planning permission on. 

This data can save you time having to manually scour for opportunities only to find out the land isn’t actually developable. 

With SHLAA, not only are you able to pursue positive sites available for short-term development, but you can investigate and rule out any sites with constraints you don't want to take on. 

Or there’s the option to use your planning knowledge to tackle any constraints and end up making the land developable. These sites often require more work, but with less competition, there are usually better deals to be made. 

Even if you’re not looking to develop on SHLAA sites, the assessment documents can provide valuable insights into the planning process of a specific Local Authority. If you’re looking to gather data on the development potential of a certain town or area, such as its position against housing targets and its strategy for future development, SHLAA could be a good place to start.  



Challenges with SHLAA

Accessing this data can be pretty labour-intensive, however, as there isn’t one national dataset that can be referenced or even a consistent way of presenting the data across Local Planning Authorities. 

There also tends to be a significant variation in the level of detail provided, and often multiple documents need to be cross-referenced to get a complete picture of just one potential site. 

To make matters even more challenging, some SHLAA documents can be over 1000+ pages meaning you have to wade through masses of text to find the information you need. 

Needless to say, a massive amount of work is required to assess SHLAA sites in the traditional way. And when looking across multiple councils it becomes even more of a headache. 

So much of a headache, that SHLAA has been our most requested dataset – with more than 50 customers asking if we could help make their lives easier by adding the data into LandInsight. 

So we did. 


Here’s how

Within LandInsight, you can now see SHLAA and other land availability assessment data (for the LPAs we currently have coverage for) all in one place. It’s been handily added as a new map layer under Planning Policy. 

We’ve colour-coded SHLAA sites for an instant insight into their development potential:

  • Green – positive
  • Amber – neutral
  • Red – negative

SHLAA screenshot

You’re able to toggle off the type of sites you’d like to see, so it’s possible to only view SHLAA sites that are positive for example. 

High-level details are available when clicking on the site – an exercise that used to take hours to uncover. 

And this is just the beginning. 

We’ve taken an iterative and agile approach to shipping SHLAA to make sure we’re delivering it into your hands, as quickly as possible. As well as being able to proactively handle feedback given by our customers. 

Since SHLAA launched, we’ve already made several improvements based on user feedback: 

  • Saving sites to your Sites area – enables a faster due diligence process and better management of your sites pipeline
  • Clicking through to the original documentation from LandInsight – provides you with access to the full assessment details

Plus, we’ve been working hard to increase our SHLAA data coverage and it’s now accessible for 80% of local authorities – with more still to come.


Streamline your SHLAA site sourcing 

SHLAA has always been a useful tool for identifying potential opportunities. And now it’s quicker than ever before to leverage this data. 

Gone are the days of searching through loads of documents for hours, or even days, to find out whether a site is worth your time.

LandInsight’s Land Availability Assessment layer lets you instantly see which sites fall under SHLAA – and helps you make informed decisions on whether the opportunity should be progressed.