Rockbeare Parish Council objects to further expansion of Cranbrook

“… Cranbrook town council’s own planning committee objection to the application last month. And now Rockbeare parish council has voted to object to the application.

The objection says that it infringes on the emerging Rockbeare Neighbourhood Plan but also is premature, does not address the issues around congestion at the M5 junction 29 junction, the density of houses is too high, and the location of the all-weather pitch, the play areas, and the gypsy sites are in the wrong place.

Jacqui Peskett, locum parish clerk to the council says: “The application infringes on the emerging neighbourhood plan as the green wedge between Rockbeare and Cranbrook is intended to include the whole area to the east and north of Parsons Lane and that any development of the area to the west of the country park as proposed would potentially cause flooding in Rockbeare village.

“The proposal is premature, since there is still no overall development plan for Cranbrook, now promised for over three years, so issuing any more development permissions may seriously prejudice the proper development of a Cranbrook masterplan.

“The proposal does nothing to address the capacity of the M5/J29 which is already reaching overload at peak times.

“The developers have not learned the lessons of the first phase of development as the density of 45 homes/hectare is too high.

“The proposals makes no provision for healthcare and would exacerbate the already inadequate education provision in the area by adding a further primary school when the capacity of the secondary provision in Cranbrook is already at the limit.”

The objections also has concerns that the location of the all-weather pitch, the play areas, and the gypsy sites are in the wrong place.

But neighbouring Broadclyst parish council decided after a lengthy meeting that they have no comment to make on the reserved matters application.

Cranbrook town council had objected on the grounds that the green wedge between towns would be too narrow, the density of housing was too high and the location of the gypsy sites were in the wrong place.

Since the build of the new town in East Devon began in 2010, 3,500 homes, a railway station, St Martin’s Primary School, play facilities, the neighbourhood centre, local shops, the education campus, the Cranbrook Farm pub, while construction of buildings in the town centre and the sports pitches are underway, while plans for the ecology park in the town have also been submitted.

The application for the southern expansion for Cranbrook would see the town get an additional 1,200 homes, but also a petrol station, a residential care home, employment land, a new primary school, and an all-weather sports facility. …”

[For detailed information see original article]

Baker Estates – developer of the moment at EDDC?

For the ‘reserved matters’ decision on the first phase of their latest estate at Gittisham (outline approval was granted against local opposition in 2014, before the Local Plan was adopted), EDDC’s Development Management Committee was supplemented by rarely-seen EDDC big-wigs. Development Officer, Chris Rose, who normally presents applications to the committee, was joined by EDDC’s Solicitor, Henry Gordon Lennox, and Development Manager, Ed Freeman, to counter the objections of a single representative of Gittisham Parish Council even though ward member, Independent Susie Bond, voiced her reservations.

New-kid-on-the-block Bakers was ably supported by Councillor Phil Twiss, Cabinet Member for Economy, who said that ‘£50 million’ would be generated for the local economy by the development. Bakers’ Tom Hammond was seen to give Councillor Twiss a cheerful wave as he left the meeting.

The Parish Council and Councillor Bond were both concerned about three 3-storey blocks of flats, built at the highest point on the site, which will tower over 2-storey houses built lower down. These blocks, of course, will house the ‘affordable’ dwellings which Bakers are (so far) obliged to build (though as with many local developments these days this is subject to change if they find the condition too onerous at a later stage), and so they have been shoe-horned into the smallest possible space, leaving more room for the profit-earning properties for sale on the open market.

The local representatives felt that the blocks were out of keeping with the setting – a feeling that other members appeared to share. However most seemed swayed into allowing the development – with only Independent Matt Coppell and the two Liberal Democrat members voting against.

Bakers say that they now have a ‘track record’ in East Devon. However, as far as we know, they have only two other approved developments in the district, both in Seaton – at Barnards Hill Lane (not yet commenced) and at Rowan Drive – where residents are said to be complaining to EDDC on an almost daily basis about alleged breaches of planning conditions by Bakers’ builders.

Gittisham, keep your eyes on this development.

Why “growth” is almost impossible in East Devon

Our Local Enterprise Partnership trumpets “growth, growth, we must have growth to prosper” and EDDC chose the highest growth figures to ensure its Local Plan got LOTS of housing. But they both seem to have forgotten something that their bible, the Daily Telegraph, now points out:

Britain’s productivity crisis risks getting worse because the population is ageing steadily, leaving relatively fewer younger, more dynamic workers who typically innovate more.

Unless drastic action is taken to boost skills and creativity, or to increase the number of young workers, then growth will struggle to pick up, according to new economic research published in the journal of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

“The share of young workers impacts the innovation process positively and, as a result, a change in the demographic profile that skews the distribution of the population to the right [older], leads to a decline in innovation activity,” said the paper, written by Yunus Aksoy, Henrique Basso and Ron Smith. …

To avert a sustained slowdown they recommend that governments should look at ways to make the dwindling proportion of young people more productive.

“Unless there are drastic changes most OECD countries will need to devise new policies to foster medium-run economic growth in an environment with ageing population, perhaps by increasing investment in human capital,” the researchers believe.

Alternative options are also available, but some may be less politically palatable – for instance, encouraging greater flows of migrants of working age into the country.

“Demographics are not destiny and our conclusions assume that there will not be major changes in rates of immigration, labour force participation, fertility or longevity,” the economists said.”

Land barons

Owl attempted to shorten this post but couldn’t find anything that could be cut out.

“In October last year, Tony Gallagher threw his friend David Cameron a 50th birthday party at Sarsden House, his 17th-century mansion near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. He served a dinner of roast beef and lamb, cooked on his Aga, to a private gathering of 23 people.

At the same time, Gallagher was also quietly planning to sell the company that he had built up over three decades, accumulating land, gaining planning permission, and auctioning it off at vast profit.

After reportedly holding talks with the Pears family, the Wellcome Trust and Berkeley Homes, Gallagher Estates was sold to housing association L&Q in January. It netted the entrepreneur a £250m payday, propelling him into 152nd place in The Sunday Times Rich List, with an overall fortune estimated at £850m.

Such is the life of the modern-day land baron. A group of private companies, largely unknown to the public, have carved out a lucrative niche locating and snapping up land across the UK.

Operating in the murky world of “strategic land” promotion, these firms prepare sites for development by doing the time-consuming work of gaining planning permission. It is then sold on “shovel-ready” to housebuilders. These companies don’t ever build homes, but work within the labyrinthine planning system, taking advantage of its weaknesses and loopholes.

It’s a modern-day gold rush: the magazine Farmers’ Weekly is filled with adverts for companies offering to prepare agricultural land for building; Gladman Developments, a land promoter, offers its services on a “no win, no fee” basis to lure landowners interested in selling up, claiming a success rate of 90pc. The reason for this is the sheer profit that can be made by obtaining planning permission on a strategic site of land.

According to Simon Hodson, head of residential land at JLL, while an average acre of agricultural land may sell for £5,000 to £10,000, land with planning permission for residential development is normally worth £1m-4m per acre, depending on its location and the amount of infrastructure and preparation needed before building.

These companies will then take a cut of 10-30pc of the sale value, depending on the size of the site. This means that the murky underbelly of the land market is highly profitable: in the year ending March 31 2016, Gladman made a pre-tax profit of £11.6m, while Gallagher’s was £79m in the year to June 30 2016. The company was bought for £505m, which included land to build 42,500 new homes.

The companies keep a low profile, and so do their bosses. Gallagher quietly donated £110,000 to the Conservative party last year, while Gladman has also built his firm up over decades, selling his family home to invest in his first tracts of land.

The way they operate and the nature of the land market means it is difficult to know the scale of this opaque world.

When promoting land, these companies will seldom purchase it upfront, but instead either pay the owner an option for exclusive rights, or promise the money once it is sold, with the landowner retaining the land and being actively involved in the sale process.

The options don’t need to be registered anywhere, and they are not obliged to detail their deals in their results. A search through a database created by Freedom of Information requests of land ownership by campaigner Guy Shrubsole reveals that Gladman owns just 304 acres, but it says it produces sites for 10,000 homes per year, a far higher amount. Gallagher owns just 714 acres according to this database. Such is the opaque nature of these land deals that mythology swirls around the industry: one – unproven, and very likely untrue – claim is that 90pc of green belt has long-term speculative options in place, in case the Government of the day changes its policy on building on it.

The true size of the industry is almost impossible to find out. There are around eight big companies, and many more smaller ones, quietly preparing land around the country, though largely outside London.

Figures from Savills suggest that land promoters and investors currently control around 20pc of land due to be put through planning, enough for 153,400 homes. This is compared to housebuilders which own just 7.7pc of land at this stage in development. This disparity is caused partly by the fact that these promoters work on a much longer-term basis, picking up options on land for development in 15 or even 20 years. A site for 10,000 homes that Gallagher developed in Northstowe, Cambridgeshire, was acquired in 1998, and then finally sold to housebuilders last year.

A source in one of the large housebuilders says that it buys one third of its plots from these land promoters, although this figure varies. Some housebuilders have substantial land banks that they take through the planning system itself, such as Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon.

Much of the success comes from navigating the planning system. Land promoters track down underfunded local authorities that have not yet set out a local plan for housing in the next 15 years, or a programme for building in the next five years in its National Planning Policy Framework. Enter a land promotion company, which finds sites in these areas where the council is likely to say yes.

David Gladman, co-founder of the eponymous company, told the High Court last July: “We normally only target local authorities whose planning is in relative disarray and … either have no up-to-date local plan or, temporarily, they do not have a five-year supply of consented building plots.” Just 41pc of local authorities have a five-year plan for housing supply, according to Savills. If a local authority doesn’t have that in place, it means as long as a planning application meets certain criteria it will be approved.

Gladman employs a team of more than 50 town planners to develop these sites. Companies searching for land use aerial photography, maps, data and agents to find the sites, often simply knocking on doors to ask landowners if they want to sell up.

Are these businesses a nefarious force? They are “an instrumental part of delivering housing,” says Hodson, and help accelerate the amount of land ready to be built on. Last year, 293,127 homes were granted planning permission, according to the Home Builders Federation, a record high. By preparing large sites for development, like Gallagher does, it’s easier to create a combination of residential and commercial property, parcelling off areas to experts in that field.

But by charging a premium for a clean site that’s ready to be built on, it forces developers to increase house prices to recoup the high outlay on land, while cutting the viability of building affordable homes. “Land promoters deliberately pump the cost of land higher and higher, then reap the rewards when they sell it,” says Catharine Banks, policy officer at Shelter.

While housebuilders have recently been accused of “land banking” by Government, hoarding land with planning permission that could be built on, the same could be levelled at these businesses. Research by Shelter last month found that almost a third of sites that have been approved to have homes built on have not been completed within the last five years. Gladman, however, claims it doesn’t hang on to land and offers it for sale within a couple of months of gaining planning as, under the option system, it only makes money when it is sold.

“The land market is inefficient and fragmented,” says Tom Aubrey, from the Centre for Progressive Capitalism, who argues that these land promoters are a natural product of its dysfunction and lack of transparency.

He likens the model of these businesses to private equity firms, as an agile, speculative force. “It’s a bit like airlines before the internet was set up: it was difficult to know who had the best price because of the asymmetry of information.”

The Government has signalled it wants to open up the land market, making data on land and who owns it more accessible. According to Shelter’s Banks, this “would be a small but very powerful change, which could help the country build the homes we so desperately need.”