As published in Property Week on 25 September

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The boom in the luxury co-working market in the past few years has led us to associate flexible office space with plush surroundings, ‘quirky’ neon signs and free prosecco on tap. But, at the opposite end of the scale, there is the basic, practical office space which self-storage companies are increasingly providing within their warehouses.

“All of the main self-storage operators are [providing offces] at the moment, to a greater or lesser degree,” says Steven Turner, partner and head of the business space team at Rapleys. “It’s not necessarily a new thing, but the operators have seen an increase in enquiries and occupation due to Covid.”

Operators are dipping their toes in the flexible office water, but we should not expect the self-storage sector to become a major player in workspace overnight. “Their core business is still self-storage and that will remain the case,” says Turner.
“But they will continue to provide flexible offices – it’s a growing part of the sector.”

To read the article in full please click here.

Negotiating the planning system can be tricky for any developer or housebuilder, but the challenges for promoters of strategic land are in a different league. Promoters can be seen as working against the planning system rather than with it by seeking to gain permission for sites not allocated in a local planning authority’s (LPA’s) local plan. The potential for conflict is obvious. – Property Week.

Jason Lowes, [Town Planning] partner at consultancy Rapleys, adds that getting an LPA on board is only half the battle.

The second prong is bringing the local population along as well,” he says. “It’s all very well ticking boxes with the local authority and planning officers, but if you don’t bring the community with you, then you will struggle.

“Sites can be controversial and the benefits of development can get lost. The perceived costs of development can become the only thing that people want to discuss.”

The full article from Property Week can be found here.

As flagged in the Chancellor’s Budget on 11 March, proposals to reform the planning system were set out the following day by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick in the 11 page ‘Planning for the Future’ publication. The paper acts as a prelude to a series of major publications due later this year, beginning in spring with what is hailed as an ‘ambitious’ Planning White Paper offering ‘creative solutions’ to modernise the planning system. However, some of the proposals sound quite familiar.

Last week’s publication proposes several initiatives for planning reform, which aim to support communities to deliver more homes, help first time buyers, create ‘beautiful, sustainable places’, ensure a commitment to affordable housing and work towards the Government’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

Promoting well-planned development

Measures to promote development include:

  • Investment in brownfield land and the launch of a national brownfield map;
  • Calls to build above stations in urban areas;
  • The introduction of new permitted development rights this summer to build upwards on existing buildings;
  • Permitted development rights to allow the demolition of vacant commercial, industrial and residential buildings, to be replaced with ‘well-designed’ new residential units;

Many of the proposals feel far from new, particularly some of the other initiatives announced, including reviewing the formula for calculating Local Housing Need and setting a deadline for all local authorities to have an up-to-date local plan (December 2023).

Spatial initiatives

The initiatives also include a spatial element in the form of a new Spatial Framework for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, which will involve up to four new Development Corporations. This proposed commitment will be well received by those who have been calling for support from central Government for a strategic approach for the ‘Ox-Cam Arc’. However, this appears to be harnessing growth that is already happening, rather than an attempt at kickstarting regeneration in deprived areas.

Speeding up the system

The White Paper will also include specific measures aimed at speeding up the processing of planning applications, which will include a new planning fee structure, measures to ensure planning permissions are built out more quickly, as well as automatic rebates for planning application fees when refusals are successfully appealed.

However, perhaps the most notable measure to accelerate the planning system is the proposed expansion of zonal tools such as Local Development Orders (LDOs). Whilst LDOs have been available for a number of years, their use has been limited in practice and it will be interesting to see if the initiatives go as far as the Policy Exchange’s recommendations earlier this year, in their ‘Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century’ report.

Good design and placemaking

As well as seeking to accelerate the system and encouraging delivery, the publication places significant emphasis on design. It announces that the NPPF will be revised (yet again) to further embed the principles of good design and placemaking, alongside taking forward the recommendations of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s report.

In related news

Jenrick also illustrated his commitment to housing delivery elsewhere last week in his deeply critical letter to Sadiq Khan to express his disappointment at the Mayor’s London Plan falling significantly short of meeting London’s identified housing need, and its ‘layers of complexity.’ Jenrick has directed that the Plan cannot be published until certain Directions have been incorporated and requests a commitment to maximising delivery in London, inviting the Mayor to regular meetings to ensure his requests are met.

Concluding comments

The proposed planning reforms are evidently at a very early stage, and we will be looking very closely on how the initiatives are developed. However, any proposals that render the planning system more predictable and straightforward to navigate will no doubt be welcomed by the industry. That said, from the announcements it would appear that a lot of the thinking is far from revolutionary.

For any further detail or clarification do not hesitate to contact Olivia or one of the Town Planning team at Rapleys.

Two years since the introduction of permitted development rights (PDR), aimed at making it quicker and easier to convert light industrial units (class B1[C]) of less than 500 sq m (5,382 sq ft) into residential units (class C3), the scheme has not had anywhere near the take-up the government was hoping for.

Applications have been slow coming in. A high proportion of those have been turned down as unsuitable and, in the process, some well-publicised horror stories have emerged of sheds crammed with uninhabitable, windowless flats by unscrupulous developers.

As a result, some of the industry experts Property Week spoke to say the idea was a mistake from the start and are calling for light-industrial-to-resi PDR to be scrapped, while others believe that – with a bit of tweaking – it could be fixed.

Jason Lowes, partner in the planning team at consultancy Rapleys, says that developers and landowners are not against the intent of PDR. “Our clients are always keen for things that make development simpler and easier to predict,” he says.

“PDR hasn’t been a failure; there just aren’t many properties out there that are suitable for doing it. There aren’t many properties out there that tick the boxes that the government has imposed in the right locations.”

You can read the full Property Week (15/11/2019) article here.

Sadiq Khan’s London Plan is closer to adoption after the Planning Inspectorate gave it the broad go-ahead in its report earlier this week. However, some substantial concerns were raised, and a number of potentially far reaching recommendations were made. When adopted, the new London Plan will replace the current, much consolidated version issued by London’s previous Mayor (now the Prime Minister).

A series of examination hearings were held on the draft new London Plan earlier in the year, and now the much anticipated Inspectors’ Report has been published. The report confirms that the Plan provides an appropriate basis for the strategic planning of Greater London, provided it is amended in line with the Mayor’s suggested changes and, more crucially, the recommendations put forward by the Inspectors.

In this vein, some of the Inspectors’ recommendations would seem to fundamentally change the Mayor’s approach, including the removal of the proposed presumption in favour of small housing developments and, perhaps most contentiously, a recommended commitment to a “strategic and comprehensive review of the Green Belt in London” (albeit to be undertaken as part of the next review of the London Plan).

Key Recommendations 

Evidently there is a lot to digest in the 125 page report, but the principal recommendations can be drawn into three interlocking themes:

  • The Inspectors’ recommendation to remove the presumption in favour of small housing developments, and cut the small sites housing target in half, after finding the Mayor’s aspirational policy approach to be “highly unlikely to occur, based on the available evidence”, placing an unreasonable expectation on the contribution that such sites can make in meeting housing targets.
  • The draft Plan seeks to apply a blanket approach to prevent the de-designation of Green Belt sites, which the Inspectors consider is not consistent with the NPPF. As a remedy, they suggest that the Plan commits to a review of the Green Belt in future policy work. In addition, alterations addressing the rather stringent original wording of Green Belt policies are suggested, effectively putting them in line with the NPPF.
  • The report finds that the need for industrial land is likely to be greater than assumed in the Plan, and that this demand could be “many hundreds of hectares”. In response, the Inspectors recommend that allowance is made for boroughs to review their Green Belt boundaries in emerging Local Plans, to make allowance for additional industrial capacity.

Commentary

The Mayor has already voiced his opposition to some of the report; not least the principle of a London-wide Green Belt review and it will be interesting to see what his next move is. Further, any suggestion of releasing land from the Green Belt always proves politically contentious – to say the least.

However, in reading the report it is evident that the Inspectors have not come to their recommendations lightly, and from their perspective the recommendations relative to Green Belt policies are intended to bring the London Plan in line with national policy.

The Inspectors also insist that the matter of a Green Belt review must be considered in the light of their findings that “capacity within London is insufficient to meet the identified annual need for housing and the potential shortfall of industrial land in the medium to longer term”, emphasising the issue of competing land uses, and balancing the needs of a growing population against the protecting the fundamental aims of the Green Belt.

The Inspectors also raise difficult questions in respect of the considerable reliance on small sites, an approach which was not considered realistic, leading to recommendations to significantly reduce Borough targets for such sites. This stance, whilst appearing somewhat severe at first glance, is not unsurprising, given the difficulties that are often faced when bringing forward small sites for redevelopment, particularly in London, against the quantum of new dwellings that the new London Plan expected to be brought forward in this manner.

The shortfall in industrial land highlighted by the Inspectors will be familiar to anybody trying to find, for example, sites for logistics development in London, particularly in the inner boroughs, and therefore the attention given to this matter will be welcomed by those in the industry.

In summary, the matters raised by the Inspectors are quite significant and their view is clear that “it would be wrong to unilaterally rule out changes to the Green Belt”. However the report is equally candid in saying that the consequences of not adopting a London Plan would be worse than adopting one that does not meet the capital’s development needs. The ball is now in the Mayor’s court, and we await his response.

For further guidance, please get in touch with Olivia St-Amour or Jason Lowes.

‘While looming uncertainty around Brexit has caused turbulence in many UK property markets, the trade counter sector has remained – to borrow a phrase from our outgoing prime minister – strong and stable.’ – Property Week.

Alfred Bartlett, Partner and Head of the Retail and Leisure Group, spoke to Property Week regarding the strong market for the trade counter sector.

“As well as buying tired buildings, investors are continuing to buy other industrial units and convert them to trade counters, says Alfred Bartlett, partner and head of the retail and leisure group at consultancy Rapleys. “We’ve just acquired a car dealership site for a client, which is being converted into a trade scheme. Another client just bought a reasonably prominent industrial terrace and that was converted to trade units,” he says.”

“It is a sign that landlords are increasingly attracted to the rental growth and strong financial covenants that trade counter occupiers provide. Bartlett says he is currently acting on purpose-built trade counter schemes in both Clacton and Tamworth that “in the past would’ve been out-of-town retail schemes”.”

“A combination of short supply and an increased focus on the general public has brought trade counters to the high street for the first time, often into units vacated by struggling retailers. Screwfix and Toolstation have been particularly acquisitive, says Bartlett, who acts on behalf of Toolstation looking for high street sites.”

“We’re in the infancy of building up portfolios. You can see some building now that will become attractive to the big funds. There’s definitely investment appetite in the trade sector,” he says.

The full article from Property Week can be found here.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) today blocked the Sainsbury’s and Asda merger, confirming its provisional findings from February. The CMA said that the proposed deal would have led to increased prices in stores, online and at many petrol stations throughout the UK. Richard Curry, partner in Retail & Leisure, was among the experts who shared their reaction with Retail Gazette, European Supermarket Magazine and FoodBev Media:

“The problem Sainsbury’s and Asda faced is that there was a clear lack of credible competition for the CMA to turn to, and fewer still who would be interested in the stores that would have needed to have been disposed of.

“Particularly when you factor in the fuel retail element, the only two alternatives that offer the same product range and shopping experience are Tesco and Morrisons – who are unlikely to be interested in enough of the large format stores which might have made a difference to the CMA.

“People are still waiting to see what Amazon’s next move in the UK market will be. With the Whole Foods business, and the recent partnership with Casino in Europe, food retail is an area of interest for them.

“It would be ironic indeed were Amazon to end up buying some or all of the Asda portfolio given Walmart’s exit from the UK to focus on the US is almost entirely driven by a desire to defend against Amazon on home soil.”

The full article from Retail Gazette can be found here. Click here for the article from European Supermarket Magazine and here for FoodBev Media.

Richard also spoke to Bloomberg the day before the ruling, commenting that “Sainsbury’s will be holding out for a miracle. The CMA has given every indication that they won’t approve the merger.”

Read more here.

Rapleys’ Building Consultancy Group has appointed 7 surveyors to its team across the network. The new members will be based in Bristol, Birmingham, London and Manchester to further establish the group’s geographical coverage, as well as increasing the range of technical expertise. The new posts will support the delivery of comprehensive, consistent and excellent service levels to all new and existing clients.

Supporting the service line in Bristol, Adam Reed joins as an Associate. Adam will work alongside Partner Simon Harbour to support and grow the South West client base. Adam has significant experience across the building surveying core services offered. Martin Hunt, Graduate Surveyor, also joins the Bristol team and will be supporting Dan Tapscott, Partner, in the Neighbourly Matters team which delivers services nationally.

Rapleys’ Midlands provision is boosted with Associate Jack Downing joining the specialist land development project management team and bringing with him a wealth of experience in infrastructure and development engineering. In addition Jordon Fearon has joined as graduate to support Josie Hayes in the building surveying team as the property market in the second city continues on its impressive growth trajectory.

Meanwhile, Mark Noon and Dan Heath, Graduate Surveyors join to assist the fast growing London building surveying team on all projects including building surveys, defect analysis, party wall issues, schedules of condition and other core services.

Finally Ed Hill has joined the Manchester team as Graduate Surveyor for additional support in our core building surveying offering to the North West client base.

Justin Tuckwell, Head of Rapleys’ Building Consultancy Group, commented“Being able to grow our team by this substantial number demonstrates our successful delivery of services with previous and current clients, as well as being testament to the buoyancy of the property market across the UK. All appointments have been made carefully to ensure the team comprises of talented and supportive members who work cohesively to deliver Rapleys’ high standards. I am excited to nurture the progression of the Building Consultancy Group as a whole as we penetrate and establish ourselves further within this competitive industry.”