Viability assessments were introduced in the UK to encourage more homes to be built in an uncertain financial landscape. In local government, viability assessments can see councils lose out on affordable homes at the expense of developer profits, a common challenge faced by Southwark Council.
We started this project to find a better way of evaluating viability assessments that would level the playing field between councils and developers. The council aimed to meet targets that would see up to 35% of affordable homes generated through new developments.
From the discovery phase, we identified why viability assessments aren’t working and what we can do about it. Through stakeholder interviews, we found evidence of a power imbalance between councils and property developers. Viability assessments are often used as a negotiation tool, resulting in high costs and delays to the planning application process. There’s also no standardised assessment format, rather, they’re manually compiled from the ground up each time and are not regulated to professional standards.
Working in a multidisciplinary team, including experts in service design and data science, we conducted qualitative and quantitative research and analysis to explore the data and data sources involved in compiling viability assessments and the current tools and systems used. This allowed us to develop a comprehensive map of the as-is process, including pain points, data flows and timescales.
From understanding the as-is process, we mapped what the ideal future state of viability assessments in planning might look like to meet needs and deliver more affordable homes.