COMMENT | Reasons to be Cheerful – Part One

Property and planning can remain upbeat through this time of uncertainty, writes Nick Lee, managing director of NJL Consulting.

There are huge challenges facing our industry but, at the same time, there are many reasons why we can, and must, focus on a positive set of factors.

Firstly, there is an imminent Planning White Paper. This is going to ask serious questions of the industry as a whole and provide impetus for significant change across the country. It is also highly likely that an ongoing levelling-up agenda will gain further momentum with revised housing numbers proposed by the government in the North of England.

The proposed investment in Northern transportation will ultimately come forward as promised, and, there will undoubtedly be greater devolution powers on the table. I would not be surprised to see planning and further budgetary responsibilities head to regional mayors over time.

We then have greater funding being poured into affordable housing and the notable shift towards such suppliers in the planning system. The fundamentals have not disappeared. We still do not build enough homes and we still do not have enough affordable homes. Together this continues to mean that there is pressure on the planning system to help deliver substantial levels of development.

Further funding is coming in for brownfield development, and this needs to be ramped up in order to make genuine impacts on troublesome sites. The hardest sites are not financially viable, realism is needed. Hence, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework needs delivering at pace and needs to be completed. The postponement of elections cannot mean we all kick our heels for 12 months. We need to see the GMSF move forward as well as the Local Plans for each GM authority that, in many cases, are substantially out of date. It is also the case that the first Local Plans prepared under the National Planning Policy Framework will now be up for review and will need to be re-drawn, again triggering new thinking on where future development will be placed.

All of this cannot provide anything other than a large amount of opportunity within planning over the next two to three years and work must carry on, cutting through the toughest of short-term situations that we face with Covid-19. Both Local Planning Authorities and businesses must adapt. There is no choice, and many have already adapted. Councils are recognising that they can adapt their powers and implement new ways of working and I fully expect them to rise to the challenge in the coming weeks to keep providing services. However, this will need huge amounts of understanding and co-operation among all parties involved. Patience will be key, and technology will play a huge role in ensuring projects can move forward.

Having re-structured our team over the last 12 months, including three recent promotions; moved to Manchester city centre; continued to invest in the Leeds office; and implemented a complete internet-based operation, the NJL team is extremely well-placed to look forward positively and we want to help lead the way in the coming months.

Knowing the North West property community in particular, there will continue to be plenty of opportunities and projects coming forward, having only this week begun initial appraisal work on a 500-unit residential scheme in the city.

We are upbeat that a proactive and collaborative approach will pay dividends.

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