It's fair to say that without Land & Planning, many projects wouldn't get off the ground. Dudley Mills from property developers, Kebbell, explains what the role entails.
What do you do?
In short, I source development opportunities through a network of contacts established over the 36 years I have been in the industry. I ensure that I provide them with a first-class and confidential service ensuring a swift assessment of any opportunities with meaningful feedback, which is always appreciated, and in many cases makes me their first ‘port of call’. Being able to move fast is very important because if it is a good opportunity, it won’t hang around for long.
I need to really understand the vendor’s needs to tailor our proposal to suit their requirements and circumstances. We work with architects to identify a suitable development proposal for the site, or if the site already has consent, we work out how best to optimise it. A full planning assessment is undertaken together with a preliminary technical investigation. Once we believe we have a viable proposal we undertake a financial appraisal with a view to making an offer to purchase the land.
Finally, we complete the legal aspects of the purchase and I project manage the planning applications and appropriate strategy to secure consent and we put the planning application in and wait. Sometimes the planning process can be time consuming and unpredictable. I once had to redesign a development to facilitate badgers visiting a local pub! Once we get planning consent my team and I hand over to the building team and the sales team.
What are you working on at the moment?
I usually manage four to five new projects at any one time, together with managing sites that the company either owns or have committed to purchase. Current projects include a unique development near to a historic Castle in a desirable Surrey town and one of the most challenging is an 11-storey block of apartments next to the new Crossrail station at Ealing Broadway.
How long do you stay on a project at any one time?
Maybe a year if you are lucky, but sometimes as developers, we need to be really patient. You may work on a project that takes 15 years to get planning!
What skills do you need to be in land and planning?
You need the vision to plan out how a purchase will work and a clear understanding of the market in terms of what it needs. You need skills to manage a team of consultants to ensure they deliver on time. Attention to detail is critical and you need to be able to switch focus to concentrate on issues that could arise whether they are technical, ecological, planning, or legal. Kebbell takes a very flexible innovative approach to all kinds of development and this flexibility is reflected in the sites that we acquire. Land acquisition requires critical thinking on a whole array of issues.
What are the biggest issues facing the property industry at the moment from a land-buying point of view?
There are all sorts of unintended consequences of well-meaning planning policies. One good example is affordable housing policy and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) policies which together with the protection of ground-nesting birds are driving up the cost of developing in urban areas.
How important is considering environmental issues compared to 10 years ago?
Reputable developers will have always understood the importance of any ecological and environmental issues and so it is not a new agenda, however, there is a wider public awareness of the issues. It is now a common policy that all new developments must reflect high standards of sustainability ensuring materials are responsibly sourced and disposed of as well as ensuring the completed homes are as near to zero carbon as possible. In addition, the development is required to have a positive impact on the biodiversity of the area when completed.
How has the pandemic affected land buying and planning?
I think the pandemic has crystallised the thinking processes for a lot of landowners and resulted in more opportunities as we all became aware that we don’t always control our own timescales in life. The market has seen little growth and remained reasonably flat for the last 10 years because of the financial crisis, Brexit and then the pandemic. There is a shortage of small to medium good quality developments in quality locations and so for developers like Kebbell, the outlook remains very positive. Going forward the lack of housing supply is a significant issue both socially and economically, the Government recognise this and continue to make adjustments to the planning process which are positive.
What is the best and most challenging things about the job?
I would say the uncertainty and constant frustrations of planning are the most challenging aspects however conversely securing a satisfactory planning outcome is rewarding. I spend a lot of time at work and so working with really great people is fantastic and our MD Nick Kebbell is very supportive being prepared to back me and make bold decisions.
What has been your proudest moment at work?
Aubury Place in Chiswick was the biggest planning challenge and required some pretty forensic work to ensure its success at planning. The recent planning consent in Ealing Broadway was a great achievement too - getting planning approved is always a positive moment when a lot hard work and no inconsiderable expense has paid off.