Development Briefs


Dean Suttling

October 29th, 2019
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The development management process for pre-construction can be broken down into five different phases, from an initial concept all the way through to full planning permission. A development brief is required for the early pre-construction phases as the development evolves through these stages.

If you have already produced and approved a ‘statement of need,’ which describes the development requirements in an outline form, you have moved onto a strategic brief and better defined the requirements to produce a development brief.

In your development brief you will be looking to demonstrate that, as a developer, you have a proposal or concept that has been approved by your management board. Your brief will confirm that:

  • You have consulted on the options
  • Taken on board feedback
  • You can assert that the development will be a success, as supported by market research
  • The project is deliverable within budget and within any programme or key milestone constraints

If successful, your development brief can be used to attract funders and commission architects to progress the design to the next stage.

What information is required in a development brief?

If you are considering writing your own development brief, refer to the RICS Practice Standards in Development Management. This will link you into RIBA’s Plan of Work, the CIOB’s Code of Practice including the Project Management for Construction and Development, and the Construction Industry Council’s Scope of Services, albeit the latter is tailored towards major projects.

In terms of content and what needs to be included in your development brief, you will need to consider the following as a high-level introduction:

  • A description of the Client, including why the project is being developed, why the site in question was chosen and who are the parties involved in the project
  • The organisational structure, including the development management board and clear portrayal of how it makes decisions
  • How the development organisation will interface with other projects
  • The planning requirements including legislative constraints, any existing planning consents, the location and required diversion of statutory utilities, plus any existing building and site surveys etc.
  • How you have consulted, what the outcome was and how you have treated any potential concerns or objections
  • The entire scheme budget and a breakdown of how you have calculated the fees involved
  • The known project risks including how you intend to mitigate
  • Client preferences for the design including landscaping, sustainable energy requirements, technology and basic infrastructure requirements
  • Descriptions as to how the design will be developed

In terms of client’s preferences for the design, the development brief will need to include details on the spatial requirements i.e. open plan if office space, if there is a particular phasing or zoning including circulation guidelines etc.

It will also need to include their technical requirements such as the strategy for structural engineering, the acoustic requirements, any specialist requirements for fixtures, fittings and furniture, specialist processing and plant, information and communications technology requirements etc. Notwithstanding this, component items such as cladding, specialist design or long lead items.

How long should it be?

It all depends on the size and complexity of your development. For example, a development between £50,000 to £250,000 between 6 to 12 months in duration, which is classified as low to medium risk and is for a single use, then somewhere between twenty-five to forty pages would not be unrealistic. It is important to keep the report succinct and to the point whilst representing the facts on an evidential basis in order that potential investors can review all relevant information available.

However, for projects of a more complex nature and mixed use with a greater risk profile, development briefs including up to or more than one hundred pages may be more appropriate.

Who puts the brief together and who uses it?

The development brief is coordinated by the lead consultant but is one of the most important responsibilities of a client. Developed over time, it should provide clarity for the design team, other consultants and provide the foundation upon which the scheme can develop through futures stages.

It should not be a one-off task but rather created as a live document that can be referred to throughout the projects development as a measure of the projects success. However, this is not to be construed as a means to change the brief once it is set. Only rigorous change control procedures may alter it having demonstrated that any changes have appropriate justification and approval.

The development brief will also be used by developers to engage and contract with Architects for the future stages of the project’s development, as well as by finance providers to aid their decision making on whether to invest in the project. The finance provider will then use the brief for ongoing reporting of progress against this benchmark.

Whilst the development brief will be presented as a report, with the numbers of pages referred to above, the information and requirements that contain more detail, on the technical aspects for example, can be scheduled in a spreadsheet that can be used as a base for future design development.

What is involved in the consultation process?

When a planning application is made, there is an opportunity for those affected to make representations and lodge objections to the plans. It has long been considered that engaging with those affected via consultation before you submit your planning application is important to the success of a project. In terms of what constitutes a development, Section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 defines development as:

“The carrying out of the building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on over or under land, or the making of any material change in the use of any building or other land”

Whilst a duty for developers to provide a consultation report with every planning application was introduced in the Planning Act 2008 this was then amended by the Localism Act 2011 which added clauses to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to carry out pre-application consultation and to consider responses. Therefore, after achieving royal assent, this put a legal obligation on developers to consult with local people before submitting planning applications for certain developments.

In terms of what certain development means, for residential and non-residential projects in England, consultation was considered to be required for developments of more than 200 homes or where the site area is four hectares or more and for non-residential, a new floorspace of 10,000 sqm or more or with a site area of two hectares or more. If your development falls within this category, then you will be required to prepare a Statement of Community Involvement to demonstrate how you have taken account of the community’s feedback within your planning application.

If you should need to consult then starting early in the process is certainly beneficial but should initially focus on meetings with the local authority, parish or town council. After this, start to engage more widely with the local community. In terms of consultees, there are statutory consultees such as local bodies, resident’s associations, local civic organisations and non-statutory consultees such as residents, town or parish councils, and local partnership organisations.

For the actual consultation itself, this can be carried out in many ways such as through exhibitions, meetings with all relevant stakeholders, workshops, or even live streaming consultations. In practice it is often a mix of these that is carried out to ensure that your planning application can demonstrate you have exhausted most options to engage with consultees.

What planning documentation is required?

Planning permission is required for carrying out any development on land in accordance with Section 57 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. In terms of a development brief used to attract funders and engage with architects, you will need to consider if outline or full planning permission is required. If you are a small developer undertaking relatively low value works, outline planning permission is typical until the point that funding for the development is secured.

As the developer, you will have to prepare and provide all the documentation and supporting evidence when submitting your outline planning application. The documentation referred to includes the conceptual design plus any other visual aids. Depending on the complexity of the development you may need to have sustainability assessments, transport assessments, environmental impact assessments, and your consultation reports.

Outline planning permission makes sense if you are carrying out early stage development briefs with a view to attract funders, but sometimes the local authority process can be so arduous that it’s more efficient in the long run to apply for full detailed planning permission.

How might the brief impact financial arrangements?

If the development brief is required to attract potential funders then it will be used by the funders to carry out their due diligence on your development e.g. they will want to assure themselves of the likelihood of planning permission, the certainty of the budget and that the risk profile of the development is not too onerous etc. It is likely they will require all formal reports and any independent assurance reviews completed on their behalf to be concluded before committing to funding a development.

Once they are committed, they will require ongoing reporting or progress of the development which can be expected to be at the minimum on monthly intervals, but may be weekly during certain stages. If a development is deemed as not progressing as planned, or serious technical issues occur, the funder may consider this a default and restrict or withdraw funding.

If the development is a mixed use, commercial or non-residential development, the funder will review the business case as presented in the development brief to decide on the overall commercial viability of the project.

What should be considered in the risk analysis?

According to Constructing Excellence, risk management is a continual process that should always be applied. They also state the following stages are considered to be the points at which project risks should be reviewed.

  • Project Inception
  • Completion of Project Brief Development stage
  • During full scheme development
  • Immediately prior to full scheme submission
  • When necessary due to relevant developments
  • When considering Through Life Costs
  • When considering Capital Replacement Costs and Programme

At the development brief stage this usually involves a client-held risk workshop where the client and his advisors identify, assess and analyse the risk associated with progressing the development onto the next stage. This could comprise possible objections to the scheme, current market conditions changing resulting in a drop in the development’s commercial viability, increasing to finance charges, environmental constraints, rising cost of inflation linked to key materials, the availability of resources to progress the development.

How does the brief impact the implementation of a development scheme?

If the development brief does not build a sufficient business case, finance providers or funders are unlikely to invest in the scheme and therefore it will not proceed to full planning permission. Architects will not be commissioned to undertake preliminary design work and the wider consultation processes cannot take place.

The attractiveness of the development needs to come across in a development brief, but it should be through a measured and evidence based approach. If this isn’t the case, once due diligence is carried out by a finance provider, they may lose confidence in the development management board and decide not to invest.

What is the difference between a development brief, project brief and design brief?

They are essentially formed at different stages. A development brief is formed from the strategic brief, which itself is produced at the appraisal stage, RIBA Plan of Work Stage B for example. The development brief is more aligned to RIBA Stage C or the RICS Phase 4, with an outline of planning permission and pre-construction activities.

The project brief is a key document upon which the design brief will be produced. It formally defines the developments requirements in enough detail to enable the project to be designed and specified as per RIBA Plan D, detailed proposals.

The design brief will be produced from the requirements stated in the project brief, it will list out the products required for example and be used a reference point to ensure the design is progressed in accordance with the client’s requirements.

About Dean Suttling

A member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Dean has twenty years of experience in commercial management and quantity surveying, undertaking roles for contractors, clients, and consultants.

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