Initial Assessment

This involves gathering information and advice which can support the project proposals and show how the objectives for the project can be accomplished from a technical, legal, financial and operational point of view.

To do this at such a level of detail that funding could be secured for project implementation will require significant resources and it is worth considering project feasibility as a two stage process - an initial assessment and a detailed feasibility study which will require resources to pay for more advice.

There is a tendency at this stage to assume that a lot of professional help is required to make an initial assessment of the project. This will depend on what support and skills are available to you, but an initial assessment is intended to be broad brush -based on some professional advice, local research and budget estimates rather than professionally verified market information or construction cost estimates which would be part of a detailed feasibility process.

An initial assessment of a project usually takes place when:

  • A site or building has been identified for the project
  • Project objectives have been agreed
  • A group of people or organisation(s) are identified who can manage the process and report back to all stake holders.

An initial assessment will include the inception and feasibility stages of the design and construction process described in The Build at an early stage, when there are opportunities to involve stakeholders in development of the physical transformation of the land and buildings associated with the project. This process also provides the basis for estimating capital costs that can inform both the initial assessment (see below) and, later on, the detailed feasibility and business plan.

The main purpose of the initial assessment is to:

A) Test whether the project objectives can be put into practice and to refine them in the light of the information and advice that is gathered.

The initial assessment will address the refinement of the project's objectives to improve its feasibility (whether it can be done) and viability (whether it can survive by generating income to cover its costs).

For example, it may be the objective of a project to provide a community centre or workspace that is affordable to local organisations and businesses. This objective may be at odds with the need to repay a loan needed to build them because the capital costs of their acquisition and development could not be entirely funded from grants. Alternatively it may not be a problem if it is considered that a subsidy to those organisations and businesses can be met by other grant fundraising efforts or from other income generating elements of the project.

In addition the project objectives may have implications for the operational requirements of managing the assets into the future. For example if the project involves providing housing for people on low incomes to rent or to buy it may be necessary to support them through the process of buying or renting the property by providing information and one to one advice and help.

The important thing is to be as clear and specific as possible about what the project is to achieve and how the social and community objectives (for affordability for example) are balanced with the financial requirements to cover costs and liabilities with income. This will enable the feasibility study process to identify alternatives that can accommodate all project objectives.

B) Test whether the project is viable and sustainable and shows enough potential for success to conduct a detailed feasibility study.

The initial assessment is a process of gathering information and predicting likely costs and income for both capital expenditure on the land and buildings involved and the revenue costs of running and maintaining them into the future.

It will be necessary to undertake research into all these questions and then bring the results together to consider a final view on whether the project has enough potential to be developed in more detail and to secure the resources that might be needed to investigate feasibility fully.

The initial assessment for the project should at a minimum research and answer the Project Make or Break Questions below. The answers that are possible initially will become more detailed as more research is conducted. Considering all of them at the initial stage and filling in the feasibility checklists will demonstrate very quickly how much research needs to be done. This will enable answers that are supported with reliable evidence to make the initial assessment of whether the project is feasible, viable and sustainable and to make a decision about proceeding to a detailed feasibility process and business plan.

Project make or break questions

Is the potential land/building asset available?

If so, on what terms and conditions eg lease or ownership; are there title conditions restricting use or development)?

Is this certain?

Has a legal search been done?

 

Can the asset be developed to meet project objectives from a technical point of view?

For example, is it possible to fit what is wanted on the site/building; will it meet planning standards and policy and therefore get planning permission?

Is this certain?

Has an architect looked at it? Has a surveyor looked at site / building conditions?

 

Is there sufficient demand for what is proposed to make the project viable?

For example is there a demand for workspace, shops or housing at the right price to enable the project to cover costs.

Is this certain?

Have property agents been asked about the market and prices locally?

Are permissions necessary and are they likely to be given?

eg planning permission or listed building consent 

Is this certain?

Have discussions been held with local planners or local planning policy documents been examined? Has Historic Scotland been consulted?

Is there sufficient stakeholder support?

Is this certain?

What consultation has taken place about the project?

Is the local council on board? Are there funders that can be approached?

Is there an organisation or individual people who can make it happen?

Is this certain?

Who is the asset champion? Does an organisation need to be set up? How much time and resources do they have to pursue the project?

Does the organisation (if applicable) promoting the project have the legal powers to do what is proposed and is it prepared to champion the project through the process?

Is this certain?

Have the governing documents of the organisation been checked? What discussions have there been about the process of pursuing the project and what it may involve?

Is there likely to be financial support available to implement the project? Is it available on the right terms and conditions?

Is this certain?

Has anyone done any research or spoken to funders or other local organisations who have successfully raised funds for a similar project?

Is there enough time to plan and implement the project?

For example is it possible to plan and fund raise for the project before it is proposed to be demolished / sold / falls down?

Is this certain?

Have the key external dates for the future of the building or land been identified? How firm/flexible are they?

Any there any other barriers?

How can they be overcome?

Is this certain?

Is there a way around or a way to address the barriers that have been identified?

Download this table at the end of the page

The initial assessment should also include a 'timeline' or Gant chart for the project. These chart a specific timescale for the project against the tasks that have to be completed to enable planning to meet deadlines (for example funding deadlines or construction contract periods) and monitor progress. Particular care should be taken when estimating the time needed for design and construction processes as they are dependent on other bodies (for example securing planning permission) and may be subject to delay and agreement on design details and contract arrangements can be protracted (see The Build).

Assessing the viability of the project

Projects that are not viable are simply those that cannot meet all their costs over a specified period. In a land and building project that means that the finance cannot be raised to acquire and develop the asset or enable the asset to be used by the project target market at a price that will cover the costs to provide the service. It is perfectly possible to have a project which will take some time to become viable. In that case ­there may be a need for some grant subsidy or other sources of working capital to cover this gap until income levels grow. This must be shown clearly in the assessment and outline how the risks of the funding necessary to bridge the gap and cover the repayments of any loans etc have been addressed.

If income is greater than costs then the project is potentially viable (given that this is an initial assessment).

Use the information that has been gathered from the initial assessment (See the Feasibility checklists for capital and revenue funding below) to consider whether there is evidence that:

  • The Capital funds can be raised to acquire and develop the land and buildings that form part of the project objectives. A key element of this is any subsidy available to the project from paying less than market value for the land and buildings or from grants to meet the costs of development or improvement.
  • There is sufficient demand for use of the project that it will generate revenue from sales or lettings to cover all the costs of running and maintaining the project when it is complete. This is particularly important if all the capital costs cannot be met from grants and subsidies and there is a need to borrow and commit to loan repayments.

Feasibility Checklist: What is needed to implement the capital development process for the project (the land or building acquisition and its development or improvement)?

 

Costs £

Income source

Land/Site acquisition

 

 

New or revised legal body and/or policies

 

 

People (project manager)

 

 

Construction

 

 

Insurance

 

 

Fixtures / fittings / equipment

 

 

Advisors (Professional fees)

 

 

VAT

 

 

Any other needs? (specify)

 

 

Download these tables at the end of the page

Feasibility Checklist: What is needed to run and maintain the project when it is complete?

 

Annual Costs

Income Source

People/skills (staff salaries)

 

 

Running costs

 

 

Insurance (employers, public, professional indemnity)

 

 

Contractors (service agreements)

 

 

New or revised legal body (administration)

 

 

Finance Costs (loan repayments)

 

 

VAT

 

 

Any other needs (specify)

 

 

Checking the sustainability of the project

The initial assessment of the project may show that it is viable in financial terms. For example a project involves the building of 10 houses which are to be owned by a Trust and let to tenants at intermediate rents. All the capital costs of acquiring and building the housing can be met with a loan and grant. The revenue costs of managing the houses and the loan repayments will be met by the rents.

How sustainable this arrangement will be depends on whether all the operational implications of maintaining and managing the housing and administering the Trust that owns and manages it have been considered in sufficient detail. If the financial assessment of viability does not include all these implications both viability and sustainability is undermined.

The initial assessment will need to convince all stakeholders that any obstacles to the project can be overcome and that in the end a viable and sustainable asset will emerge from the process. The assumptions in the assessment about costs and income will be rigorously tested by potential funders and if the project requires revenue subsidy initially to work towards viability, it will be necessary to specify the particular community benefits and impacts that the project will offer in the long term.

If all stakeholders and the asset champion are satisfied that the project is a viable one on the basis of the initial assessment it is possible to proceed with a detailed feasibility study of the project.

Related Resources

Project Make or Break Questions

The initial assessment for a project should at a minimum research and answer these Project Make or Break Questions

Microsoft Office document icon project-make-or-break.doc

Feasibility Checklists

Checklists to assess the viability of a project

Microsoft Office document icon Feasibility Checklists