Creating new communities?

I am involved in a number of schemes which, assuming they get over the hurdles of acquisition and Planning, have the possibility of being game-changers in their locality.

A dose of regeneration - just what the doctor ordered?

A dose of regeneration – just what the doctor ordered?

They are genuine regeneration projects – and for the last five years or so that is a word that has all but disappeared from the property world. We have forgotten how to regenerate – just how to batten down the hatches. And scrape by often by the skin of our teeth.

In the last few weeks I have come across a few instances whereby local action groups have a voice with the Planning Authorities – and they have quite a lot to say about the schemes being put forward. I had found it a difficult call if I am honest. I very much respect the fact that we live in a democracy and local people ought to be able to have a say. But I also live in a very harsh commercial world where building development is like rocking horse poo.

So the question is whether an action group should hold out for an idealistic and purist position – and risk a site being sterilised for the next five years – or do they engage and try to find a solution which respects the developers needs and desires but may not be quite what they want?

My issue with all of this is that when a developer comes to my city I want them to develop. I don’t want them to find obstacles based on local and, frankly, small-time political issues. My issue with the latter is that it is so often based on pre-conceived and ‘guessed’ positions. It is rarely based on hard fact.

When that happens the action group can be seen to be somewhat off the pace and rather missing the point. Of course, they are rarely the people who are putting real money into these schemes…


Nottingham Planning Team – gold star

I’m not always singing the praises of the City Council. I do appreciate they they have a lot to do – often their failings are to do with a lack of resources rather than ineptitude. Although, as with all big organisations, there can be some of that too!


I have to deal with the City on lots of levels – through their inward investment team, through estates and through planning.

A few weeks ago I was negotiating on the purchase of a building in Nottingham City – it has recently closed for it’s existing use – and my client wants it for another. The change of use will need planning permission but we won’t have time to run through that whole process before we have to complete the purchase.

So, I sent an explanatory email to the Planner – with a set of sales particulars and details of what were seeking to do in the future. I wanted to know if it was going to be contentious. Planners will sometimes give you an ‘indication’ with lots of caveats – they do have to – they ultimately answer to an elected committee.

Six minutes later came the reply. The change of use would supported. It was not contentious. SIX MINUTES.

This must be a record.

I had a delighted client. But the City should be congratulated on this approach – there was no sitting on the fence. Although the building is a a bit of an eyesore and our proposed use will fit with some of the City’s growth plan ambitions there was no compulsion to be so helpful.

So well done Nottingham City Council planning team – a gold star (when I get the actual consent!). This sort of action will help the City in the eyes of inward investors.

Lunch – at the Houses of Parliament

I had a good lunch last week! I was guest of Matt Tucker from Morgan Tucker and attended the London Interact lunch held in the Houses of Parliament. Drinks in the terrace bar for starters – followed by a lunch…

The guest speaker as Nick Boles – the newly appointed Minister of State for Planning. He replaced Greg Clarke in the September re-shuffle. He is MP for Stamford and Bourne and might be described as a true blue – well educated and well spoken. He has a first from Oxford where he studied politics, philosophy and economics.

At this point I would have normally switched off – posh career politicians? But I didn’t. I thought he was really rather good. He admitted to the ‘educated’ audience (there were lots of property types!) that he was new to the job and was learning. He outlined the Government policy on shifting power back to local people (rather than the previous nation planning targets). But he also said that he was keen to get things moving. He was not impressed that some authorities were getting round the rules!

Some wag suggested the first question to him should be, “At school children are taught in exams to answer the question? Why can’t Politicians!“.

In fairness – he did ask for questions and he answered frankly and candidly – which was refreshing. He did seem to have a grasp of the subject. He promised to take some of the points away – so we’ll see if he acts on some of practical issues raised.

Planning is a complex area of my world. I think if Nick Boles gets to have some influence on the system – that will be a good thing.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the food was excellent!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Nottingham Tagged Conservative, Matt Tucker, MP. Houses of Parliament, Nick Boles, Oxford, , Stamford and Bourne

Trinity Square … part two!

If you mention Trinity Square in the Nottingham property circle you are likely to see a rasing of eyebrows. No one wants to have much to do with it. The developer nor the Planners! It is an unmitigated distater in planning terms. I blogged about it some time ago here.

You have to go to have a look to believe it – a sort of Plaza, but not. An inside out design – just horribly wrong! It should win an anti-urbansim award. Jon Collins, leader of the Council once described it as one of the worst pieces of urban design he had seen in the city in 20 years.

But there was news this week that the City Council have decided to do something about it – it is public space after all. They have run a competition and throw some money at it. £500,000 has been talked about. And some big names have thrown their hat in the ring!

One is from Gustafson Porter- designers of the (new) Old Market Square.The Square is regarded as a massive success – a flexible space than can hold concerts, markets and even a beach!

Trinity Square needs some tlc – It is surrounded by some really good leisure uses – restaurants / clubs and cinemas. This can be great space – and place for people to congregate.

Well done the Council for taking the matter in hand – I look forward to seeing the winning design – not just on paper, but built!

MIPIM 2012 – great news! The Enterprise Zone gets bigger

You might have seen the news in the press that Nottingham was selected for one of the new Enterprise Zones in the Governments announcements last year. It was on around 100 acres at the Boots campus in Nottingham. This was a great piece of news.

But in the last 24 hours we have learned that the Government have decided to extend the EZ. It will now include Nottingham Science Park, Beeston Business Park and the area near the QMC to create a Medi-Park. This is fantastic news – particularly as we are involved in the first two schemes.

Although the benefits for an EZ are not quite as generous as they were when first introduced in the 1980′s, they are still nonetheless good for Nottingham. The ‘rules’ about EZ’s are here. But they key features are:

• A business rate discount worth up to £275,000 per business over a five year period
• All business rates growth within the zone for a period of at least 25 years will be retained by the local area, to support the Partnership’s economic priorities and ensure that Enterprise Zone growth is reinvested locally
• Government help to develop radically simplified planning approaches for the zone using, for example, existing Local Development Order powers
• Government support to ensure that superfast broadband is rolled out throughout the zone, achieved through guaranteeing the most supportive regulatory environment and, if necessary, public funding.

The Rates and Planning could be the thing that makes a difference in our slow marketplace. The Planning in particular could reduce the inevitable delays we currently have in our planning system.

This is a great announcement and perfectly timed for our MIPIM trip. It gives Nottingham a competitive advantage – which we now need to capitalise on…

By Tim Garratt Posted in MIPIM2013, Nottingham Tagged Business rates in England and Wales, Enterprise Zone, EZ,

Nottingham – ready to go….

I was at a meeting last week which was a breath of fresh air. Except that the expression ‘open for business’ was used – much to the chagrin of those present! It has been a phrase many Local Authorities have used over the last few years as they struggle to convince a ‘flat as a pancake’ market that all is well. I agree, the phrase has been over-used.

I think the messages we need to get out as a City are four-fold.

Firstly, our Planners need to be approachable and available. I firmly believe that the new people at the helm have every intention of making this happen.
Secondly, we need to be fleet of foot. The world is changing at an alarming pace. What we needed a year ago is no longer the case. Welcome to the Brave New World!
Thirdly, we need the Council to be pro-active. Again, I think the new people at the top are trying to do this. They can drive things- they don’t need always to be passengers and waiting for the phone to ring.
Fourthly, we need to be ready. The market will return (I’m not sure when!) and when it does (it will honest!) we need to be ready. We need to be able to respond. And respond quickly.

I was in Sheffield last week and they have made great strides of late – with some great new buildings. But I think Nottingham has much more to offer, our ‘centre’ is just better. Perhaps our new retail offer (Broad Marsh?) will help in the short term. we are starting to see an improved infrastructure (tram, A453 et al) – Sheffield’s one-way system is appalling.

But more fundamentally we need to be brave. We need to be active. Not ‘open for business’ – but rather ‘ready to go’!


I seem to be coming back to our Planning system a lot at the moment – I blogged about the proposed changes a couple of weeks ago. I have taken a bit of heat for some comments I made to the Estates Gazette about Nottingham‘s old Planning regime.

Not the sort of Green Belt I had in mind, but you get the picture?

The point I was making was that a few years ago, the Nottingham Planners hadn’t covered themselves in Glory. I thought that they were unresponsive and had caused the City some bad press with developers who went elsewhere. Elsewhere to towns which gave them an easier ride.

Actually my comments were aimed at a Planning system in general – as well as the one in this fair City. It has become a complex matter to get a Consent on anything significant. Some say – so it should. But I see some of the process – which can be over-burdensome, slow and extremely frustrating.

It was interesting to read at the weekend that the Government are now slowing down the possible changes to the system – it looks like they will get delayed by around 18 months. I guess those of us who are used to the system won’t be surprised. The lobbying has been powerful against the streamlining of the system.

We do need Planning controls – they are important. I am a huge fan of the green belt. I think in some cases we could extend it – which would force urban renewal. But sometimes the controls become politicised and that is when we fall into difficulty. No one is going to oppose buildings which create jobs, but sometimes the places which used to house those jobs are no longer fit for purpose. A change of use is needed. And on this occasions what we need is a Planning system which responds quickly to our chaining circumstances – before end up with white elephants for buildings…

You need Planning Permission – of course Sir….

The Government are currently consulting on a Draft National Planning Policy, by all accounts it’s creating quite a kerfuffle!

The document tries to set out some key parameters – one of which suggests that there will be a presumption in favour of sustainable development. On the face of it this sounds admirable – we should be encouraging ‘green’ developments – but this policy goes a bit further than that as I read it. It is a short document – around 50 pages – down from the 1,000 plus we had before.

The granting of Planning Permission for ‘green’ development doesn’t come with many other strings as far as I can see. In other words if it’s green you can have permission? Is this what was intended? Or is that one of those great political statements as opposed to a great policy statement?

There are good arguments on both sides. On the one hand it will probably surprise you to know that the UK only has around 9% of its area developed. Thats 91% ‘available for development’? Our towns are fairly well constrained – often by green belts I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. The amount of green space in our cities has been decreasing as we cram more of the built environment onto constrained parts of the Country.

But the other argument runs that our Countryside should be sacrosanct – we don’t need urban sprawl. Where is has happened it has failed. I saw this in Los Angeles which is a fine example of how not to ‘plan’ a place. We do have space in our Cities – even if it needs renewing and updating. But that is a good thing. Keeping communities together help with critical mass for shopping, transport and other infrastructure.

The argument is going to run – the consultation ends on 17th November… It will be interesting to see what the feedback is.

Nottingham Planners – the dilemma

Next Wednesday two of the biggest Planning Applications Nottingham has seen for years go before the Development (out of) Control Committee.

Broad Marsh - as it might look

This will be an interesting test. It is the first Committee after the Local Elections where Labour wiped the floor with everyone else. We have just 5 Conservative Councillors. The Liberal Democrats office at Loxley House is rather empty! Whether such a balance of power is actually healthy remains to be seen, but clearly Labour have the whip hand in (all) Committees.

The two applications are the £500m extension of Broad Marsh – hot on the heels of the Victoria Centre proposals. And a new ‘monster’ Tesco on the Island site – adjacent emda and the BBC. The latter is going with a recommendation by the Officers to refuse the application. The former is going with the blessing of the Officers. Such a moniker doesn’t necessarily mean much when you sit before Politicians. Long ago I was warned off such Committee’s – they are an interesting experience, often defying logic.

On this occasion, I think the officers are probably right in their views. I don’t think we need a giant Tesco on the edge of town. Actually we need to strengthen the town – and I have real concerns about the power of these giant supermarkets. It is not always healthy. But we certainly do need the Broad Marsh extension. It has been too long in gestation. The City is, in my view, slipping in the retail rankings. I don’t think, as I have said before, that we can sustain both the Broad Marsh and the Victoria Centre. It is reckoned that Broad Marsh would create around 5,000 new jobs.

But in my view and critically, it would improve the present Centre – which is some way past its sell by date. It will help regenerate the South-side of the city.

On this occasion I hope the Committee run with the Officers…

UPDATE 25 May 2011

In anticipation of a refusal Tesco withdrew their application before it got to Committee today. This is not unusual. It is better to withdraw and re-submit than get a refusal… So watch this space!

The housing crisis solved?

By all accounts we have a housing crisis. Or if we don’t there is a train smash ahead – and we are heading into it.

Des-res of the future - squint for the after effect

We are not building enough houses. Government figures suggest we need 232,000 each year and in 2009/10 we built 129,000. Obviously the problem is compounded with time. Future generations are going to be “living in t’ shoebox in t’ middle o’ road” (the lucky ones).

So HM Government has come up with a whizz scheme. They have noticed there are a couple of empty offices lying around the place – making the skyline look untidy. Often on Industrial estates or in business parks they are obviously capable of making warm cosy homes.

So the Cameron & Clegg show are consulting the people. The document runs to a healthy 66 pages – but you really only need read page 7 – the rest are sort of belly button fluff. Warm and soft but pretty useless.

Page 7 sets forth thus…(my precis – to save you time):

Planning is always a problem. So side-step the planners. If you want to convert an office or light Industrial unit to a bijou residence, crack on. Don’t stop for the permissions. Just build – and you’ll get a pat on the back.

Sounds great. Especially the bit about side-stepping the Planners!

But is it really? It sounds ok to start – as there are some reasonable buildings with four walls and a roof. But the configuration can be difficult to remodel. Shared toilets are often seen as ‘poor’ by residents. Suspended ceilings aren’t gig in people’s lounges – nor are paper thin partitions.

But these can be put right. What can’t be put right is the location issue. We have ‘zones’ in case anyone hadn’t noticed. Zoning works to keep the uses apart (although I accept that there are some areas where we do have mixed use). Once we start on this route it’s a slippery slope – it’s not going to easy to go back.

Perhaps just simplifying the Planning process full stop would be better?