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March 1, 2024

Could your land be suitable for residential development? Our MD, Paul Smith, will explain what attributes we look for and the alternative options for sites that aren’t suitable for new homes.

The Strategic Land Group celebrated its 15th birthday last year; you must have looked at a lot of sites during that time! What are the things you look for when assessing its development potential?

We’ve definitely looked at a lot of sites - we review about one a day on average! The key thing we look at is how logical it would be as an extension to the town or village it adjoins – does it round off a jagged edge, for example. After that we consider physical constraints – things like how steeply it slopes, how we can access it and whether or not it’s at risk of flooding. Finally, we’ll think about planning policies, both what they say about the site now, but also how they could change in the future.

Are there any elements that aren’t ideal but could potentially work in certain circumstances?

There’s no such a thing as a perfect site – we’re looking for ones that tick as many boxes as possible.

That said, there are some things which are usually non-negotiable – it has to adjoin an existing settlement, we must be able to build an access road of a suitable standard, and the bulk of the site must be outside of flood risk areas. Everything else we can usually work with, provided there aren’t too many different issues.

And what’s the situation with Local Plans? Local authorities are required to have Local Plans which includes all the sites that have been allocated for residential development; can The Strategic Land Group help landowners to have their site included?

To build homes in England, you first need planning permission. Councils base their decision whether or not to grant planning permission on the policies in their Local Plan, which is supposed to set out how much development is needed and where it should be located for the next 10 or 15 years. So, it’s a crucially important document.

Because they’re time-limited, Local Plans need to be updated periodically. When that happens, councils must consider how many homes they need to build in the future years and then identify the sites where that will happen. Many of those will be ones that already have planning permission, or brownfield sites within existing built-up areas that the council expects to become available for house building. Usually, however, that isn’t enough – and some greenfield sites on the edge of existing towns and villages needed to be identified for development too.

That’s where The Strategic Land Group can help landowners. We prepare submissions for the council explaining why we think their site is a suitable place for new homes.

That’s partly about the location of the site – is it near services and facilities, for example – and partly about those physical characteristics I mentioned. We pull all the information together into a Development Prospectus – which also includes a masterplan showing what a housing development would look like – which we use as the basis for our discussions with the council. By justifying the choice of the site for new homes and showing the council that the site will definitely be developed if they earmark it for housing in the new Local Plan, we increase the chances that it’s one of the sites they’ll choose for new homes.

If a site isn’t included in the borough’s Local Plan, does that mean it can’t be developed?

No, just because a site isn’t included in the Local Plan doesn’t mean it can’t be developed. Sometimes the policies in a Local Plan become out-of-date - usually because the period the Plan covers has ended or the Plan is failing to deliver the number of new homes it is supposed to. If that is the case, the fact that the site isn’t included in the Local Plan becomes less important. Provided it is suitable for development and in a sustainable location, a planning application might well be approved.

Selling land can be complex and stressful and farmers and landowners are often unsure where to start, understandably; what is your advice for those thinking about selling land?

The first thing to consider is whether your objective is to sell the site quickly or to maximise its value. Where land might be suitable for development in the future, there are always likely to be people willing to buy it. Unfortunately, without any formal planning status, the price paid is likely to be a small fraction of its real development value.

The alternative is to establish the planning pedigree of the site – by securing planning consent or a development allocation in a Local Plan – and put together a comprehensive information pack covering technical issues like ground conditions and legal details of the site alongside the planning confirmation. That ensures the site is “shovel-ready,” and is something for which house builders are prepared to pay a premium.

Whilst that will ensure you receive the very best price, it is an expensive and time-consuming process – and there’s no guarantee that you’ll secure a planning permission in the first place. That’s one of the reasons why landowners choose to work with The Strategic land Group – we’ll fund the whole process at our risk. Our fee is only paid when the site is actually sold, so if we don’t succeed, our landowner partners don’t have to pay us anything. Plus, they get benefit of our expertise.

Not every site will be suitable for housing development; are there any alternative uses? Like renewable energy, for example? And what attributes must those sites have?

The housing development potential of a site is the first thing we consider because that’s where the biggest increase in value is likely to be. But if it isn’t suitable for that, we always think about other things.

Solar farms are a good example, because they have a completely different set of criteria. Most obviously, being a little removed from an existing town or village is usually a positive for them! Ideally, they also need to be very large – perhaps 80 acres or more – and relatively close to an electricity sub-station.

The potential for commercial development – distribution warehouses and light industrial units - is something else we think about. The most important characteristic for those sites is usually the transport links – they would need to be close to a motorway junction or a trunk-road and with a relatively large population close-by.

We’ve considered lots of other things too, like drive-thru restaurants and care homes – whatever we think is likely to generate the best value for the landowner given the location and physical characteristics of their land.

Renewable energy sounds like an excellent option for underused land that isn’t suitable for development – particularly as some animals can still be grazed on the land. How long do leases last and are farmers expected to complete any maintenance?

It can certainly be a great option, especially for farmers who are looking to diversify their income streams. Just as with our housing projects, we’ll deliver the planning and technical approvals at our own risk, before finding an operator to build and run the solar farm.

Solar farms typically operate on 30- to 40-year leases, so you retain ownership of the land but receive a rental income of perhaps £700 to £1,000 per acre per year, depending on the nature of the scheme. That guaranteed annual income can be a real benefit to landowners. Once a solar farm is up and running, the operator will be responsible for all the maintenance and running costs as well as removing all the equipment at the end of the lease. It can even be possible to carry on grazing sheep around the panels.

If you’re considering selling land or have a site that could be suitable for development, do feel free to get in touch with Paul and The Strategic Land Group team via 0161 220 2935 or to discuss your options and receive a no-obligation assessment.

A guide on how to send us a plan of your site can be found here.

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