Strategic land schemes the way forward for local planning authorities and developers in the wake of COVID-19, says Smith & Williamson

  • Written By: Mark Gee
  • Published: Fri, 12 Jun 2020 11:00 GMT

Long-term strategic land projects have “huge potential” as the property market begins to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis and they are “shielded from the storms currently raging against the wider economy,” according to a sector expert

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Jacqueline Oakes, partner, assurance and business services at financial and professional services firm Smith & Williamson, says local authorities and developers are increasingly working collaboratively on strategic developments.

These schemes are typically unallocated in planning terms and sit outside of a defined settlement boundary. Strategic land also involves not just considering existing planning policy, but how planning policy will evolve locally and nationally over time.

“Given the lengthy timeframes involved, strategic land projects are, if not immune, then certainly shielded from the storms currently raging against the wider economy,” says Jacqueline Oakes.

“No matter the extreme times we find ourselves living in, it remains important to get everything right from the beginning on a strategic land project, whether that is pulling together the right site with the right landowners or navigating the planning system.

“The latter can, of course, be notoriously tricky, particularly where a planning authority does not look favourably on development. However, strategic land is no longer the combative sector it once was, and planning authorities and strategic land promoters are increasingly working collaboratively.

“The huge potential of strategic sites is also exciting. That is not only in terms of their ability to provide thousands of new homes, although given the state of the housing crisis that is clearly important.

“It is also clear that the sheer scale of development allows developers to provide truly sustainable and engaging places in which to live, work and play.”

Zoe Thomas, partner, business tax at Smith & Williamson, says that the chronic shortage of housing stock in the UK means that strategic land banks are ever increasing in value – so all parties need to “think smart.”

“In order for the UK to address its housing crisis ‘strategic thinking’ is required between strategic landowners, developers, local planners and central government. 

“We have to think smart so that we can ensure genuine placemaking and build homes for the future rather than ‘just houses.’ This could include providing tax incentives to ensure strategic land is released more quickly, as well as using tax reliefs to encourage engagement with local communities to build safe places to live.

“This means listening to what is needed and developing creative solutions, such as cost efficient, secure and affordable zero energy homes which meet the needs of the local community.  Could perhaps developers be rewarded for focusing on the needs of the community?”

Nigel Hugill, executive chair at master developer Urban & Civic, also believes planning authorities are likely to be better disposed towards strategic site promoters as a result of the coronavirus emergency. This is partly due to the number of homes such sites can deliver, but also a desire for less dense, more self-reliant communities.

He said: “The level of planning consents will drop quite considerably this year, so as local authorities look at how they are going to balance things up I think they will favour large sites.

“Local resilience will become the new priority. You can build in things like allotments, local supply chains and farmers’ markets on strategic sites in a way that you can’t on infill sites.”

Mark Webb, partner, business tax, Smith & Williamson, added: “Huge amounts of innovation are hidden in the sector. The industry must showcase what’s really going on.”

The potential for strategic sites is huge and Property Week and Smith & Williamson have compiled a special Insight Guide highlighting the wide range of parties involved in strategic land and future trends for the sector.

Click here to visit our Property Week campaign page

By necessity, this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. This briefing does not constitute advice nor a recommendation relating to the acquisition or disposal of investments. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. Details correct at time of writing.

Note to editors
Tilney Smith & Williamson is a leading financial and professional services firm providing a comprehensive range of investment management, tax, financial advisory and accountancy services to private clients and their business interests. The firm’s c1,800 people operate from a network of offices across the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate all of the products and services referred to above, including tax, assurance and business Services.

Smith & Williamson Investment Management LLP is part of the Tilney Smith & Williamson group.

Smith & Williamson LLP
Regulated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales for a range of investment business activities. A member of Nexia International.

Smith & Williamson Investment Management LLP
Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Smith & Williamson Investment Services Limited
Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

The word partner is used to refer to a member of Smith & Williamson LLP.

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