In this next article in our series exploring the working lives of those in the housebuilding industry, Anjali Bancroft, principal associate in our Residential team, sat down with a planning director to find out more about the complex process that goes into creating new housing developments, and what's currently on their desk.
We then interviewed Richard Thurling, legal director in our Planning team, to hear his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing the sector and what's keeping him busy – check out the video below.
1) What's on your desk?
"A specific piece of work that I have been looking at today is some Hillside related advice. The Hillside case was where the Supreme Court rejected the appeal made by Hillside Parks Ltd against the previous Court of Appeal ruling which found against allowing you to build both a 'drop in' planning permission alongside your original planning permission.
"We have a large multi-phase housing site where we want to secure a 'drop in' permission for a care home and the advice relates to how we can do that without sabotaging the remaining residential and whether it is going to be worth our while doing it. The Hillsidecase has made things very complicated and I think we are hoping that rather than trying to deal with it through advice from lawyers and negotiating with planning authorities, that the government are going to do something about it by putting some legislation in place and explaining what you can and can't do.
"We are also in the process of quite a big, group-wide piece of work across our strategic land portfolio to enhance the way we present our proposals to local authorities and to land owners in the way of design, quality and sustainability. The aim of this is to persuade and show why our sites are the ones that should be allocated. The thought process is that securing allocations in Local Plans are going to be even more difficult now if government reforms take the pressure off local government in terms of housing delivery."
2) What's keeping you awake?
"One thing I think we are all concerned about is what's coming out of central government at the moment in terms of planning reform and what that's going to mean for local plans going forward, and the consequent impact on the promotion of strategic land. Looking ahead, if we have a general election and Labour win and get a majority, we might be in for another round of reforms, but I hope they might be a little bit more friendly to those trying to get on the housing ladder.
"Saying this, I generally sleep very well at night. I think that does come with some experience. Ten years ago I might have been fretting a bit more about it, but I've seen this sort of thing before. We're in a strong position as a company which also helps. We've proved that we are able to ride out some of the economic storms and position ourselves to take advantage of uncertainty in the land and planning landscape and positively come out the other side."
3) What's next in the housing sector?
"Next for me from a planning angle would be the proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that plan to come in April 2023. Also, the local government elections in May and what that means for the general political picture across the country, but also in the areas in which we operate and are promoting sites. Factors such as whether the current regimes can hold on to power or whether somebody will lose their seat could have an impact. We're doing a lot more political liaison work now and politicians we might have been speaking to for months, or years even, may no longer have a seat, so that's quite a big thing.
"Then there's the levelling up bill which will be interesting for planning. I think from a slightly wider reach, we've got the changes to Part L of Building Regulations in England around conservation of fuel and power coming in June 2023. We are making improvements to fabric sustainability and I think we should be making more of that in terms of pitching our product to politicians and local communities, showing how we're implementing sustainability advances.
"We will also be required to ensure all of our sites can demonstrate biodiversity net gain (BNG) from November this year. Generally, in terms of BNG on our sites we have plenty of green infrastructure we can improve. On some sites, without putting a huge focus on this, we're already up by 30%, so well above the minimum 10% BNG, so that's definitely positive."
4) What's the next big opportunity for the sector?
"It's difficult to foresee what the big opportunities might be, but potentially we might see some come out of the change to the NPPF. So I think we'll have to wait to see if there's anything relevant in terms of sourcing and promoting strategic land.
"If something in the NPPF comes that involves sites with better design and more BNG being looked upon more favourably, I'd like to think that our company would be able to capitalise on that because we have a good reputation and we do what we say we're going to. We're not a developer who makes big claims and then builds a few houses and then exits the scheme. I always go by the principle that we'd like to be invited back to do a phase two or three in a particular village or settlement, so you only get those opportunities if you've created a good site and kept your promises."
5) What is it about your job that you love?
"I still get a kick out of spreading the big Ordinance Survey plan and proposals map out and thinking 'right, where do we think this town is going to grow next?'. I've grown up liking maps and geography, so being able to do that for work is great.
"There is an art to planning. Someone once told me to just go and have a look, get out on site and if it looks right, it probably will be right. You do get a gut feeling about sites.
"I do sometimes go back and visit some sites after they've matured a bit and the trees have grown. I point them out to my kids when I go past and if they see one of our boards up they'll notice and say 'Daddy, did you plan that one?' Seeing our developments come to life is a source of pride I think".
This video was filmed on 21 February 2023.
Our Living team combines decades of experience working on major residential projects, a breadth of specialist experience advising operators across the Living sectors and a strong track record supporting stakeholders backing these markets. We provide clients with strategic advice from lawyers specialising in the whole spectrum of real estate law, including expertise in planning, to advise on and understand the intricacies of the planning system.