How best to bid for local authority funding, the myriad opportunities offered by councils across their district centres, and driving value with public-private partnerships were all in focus at this Place North West event.
More than 170 people attended the half-day conference hosted at Manchester’s Science & Industry Museum, where speakers included Pam Smith, chief executive of Stockport Council; John Laverick, head of housing and development at Warrington Council; Claire Slinger, assistant director of investment and development at Liverpool City Council; Kurt Partington, Salford City Council’s head of development; Stephen Young, executive director at Lancashire County Council; Colette McCormack, partner at Winckworth Sherwood; Lee Sale, regional managing director at Lovell; Phil Mayall, development director at Muse; Paul Brown, regional director at PSP; Zoe Davidson of Deloitte; Mark Bousfield, director of commercial development and investment at Liverpool City Region Combined Authority; and Bill Enevoldson, chief investment officer at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
The event was sponsored by Morgan Sindall, Lovell, and Winckworth Sherwood, and was chaired by Place North West editor Jessica Middleton-Pugh.
Liverpool development opportunities
Claire Slinger of Liverpool City Council started the event with a showcase of some of the projects the city had in its development pipeline.
- The city’s £1bn Paddington Village has the opportunity for further expansion to the north and the south, with the council aware that “we can’t deliver everything ourselves”, creating opportunity for private sector partnerships
- At Festival Gardens, a 90-acre site to the south of the city, a planning application to remediate the site will come forward this year, followed by an application for homes on the site in 2020
- Slinger also provided more detail on the rebranded Knowledge Quarter Gateway framework, now known as Upper Central, which will provide more than 2m sq ft of development opportunities, targeted at attracting digital and tech businesses
- Further masterplans are also being brought forward for different areas of the city, including a strategic regeneration framework for Garston Docks, which Slinger said would aim to create “a leafy suburb” to the south of the city
Councils make their case
Slinger then joined a panel featuring Stephen Young, John Laverick, Pam Smith, and Kurt Partington.
- Outlining growth opportunities in Stockport, Smith said the council was looking for the private sector “to pick the reins up on its own” after “setting the environment for growth” with the upcoming establishment of a Mayoral Development Corporation for the town centre
- These include the further expansion of Stockport Exchange and Town Centre West where there are opportunities to build up to 3,000 homes
- Young said infrastructure investments by the county council would help to open up as much as 1m sq ft of industrial space, through the construction of the Preston Western Distributor Road
- Giving an update on the rebranded Cuerden site, now know as Lancashire Central, he said the council and its partners would be “hopeful of sharing something soon”
- Asked whether Liverpool City Council would step in to support a pre-let or provide guarantees to the £200m Pall Mall scheme in the city, set to include 400,000 sq ft of commercial space, Slinger said the council would be “prepared to take risk” but added “it would have to be something that’s flexible, legal, and appropriate”
- Laverick said there had been a “paradigm shift” in the types of schemes being proposed in Warrington, with most previously topping out at around five storeys, and plans now coming forward for buildings of 11 storeys or more
- Partington said it was important for councils to “admit we don’t always have the skills to tackle some projects”, creating a vital role for the private sector
- He added smaller district centres can prove to be “more challenging” to regenerate, having fewer large retail or commercial anchors. “It should be about repurposing space, figuring out what [the town’s] role and functions are, packaging that up and delivering it”, he said
The funding challenge
Mark Bousfield of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Bill Enevoldson of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority then took to the stage to discuss how the authorities can help to fund and support projects across their respective regions.
- Bousfield said the process has changed for the Liverpool City Region: “There was a perception the funding process itself was arduous – we are now making it more commercial, and focussing on what applications want to achieve, and how it aligns with the priorities of the city region”
- When asked whether Greater Manchester’s focus had been too keen on Manchester city centre, Enevoldson said: “To a degree I agree with criticism that fund has been too city centre-centric. But if you want to invest £300m quickly, the best way to do it is in large city centre schemes – that enables us to get the funds out the door, so we can then reinvest it in schemes out in the districts. And you can make good money investing in the city centre”
- He added: “The pipeline in the city centre isn’t what it was three years ago, so going forward we’ll be doing less in the city centre and more outside. But we have got to keep a reasonable amount of money tied up in the centre”
- Offering developers advice on how best to bid for funding, Bousfield said: “A good project starts with discussion – best way to get into our processes is to talk to us. Make things demand-led and talk to us about the demand you want to create”
- Enevoldson said: “Business cases need to be commercially viable and well-thought-through. Where most of the schemes that we don’t support come to grief is because the quality of the information we get is poor. Projects need the right backing, and most times we will support it”
Following a networking break, Lee Sale of Lovell presented on how the company is helping to speed up housing delivery with local authority partners.
Delivery strength was “a must” for housebuilders looking to work with local authority partners, he said, with slow delivery one of the key challenges for councils looking to hit housing targets.
Using case studies such as Lovell’s scheme with Homes England in Altcar Lane in Lancashire, he showed the “pace and mobilisation” of Lovell’s approach to help deliver housing at speed, both on budget and on programme.
“The private sector can often run off and find the solution before we figure out what the question is that we need to answer,” he said. “Listening from the start should be the key to working with local authorities”.
Sale then joined a panel discussion featuring Phil Mayall, Collette McCormack, Paul Brown, and Zoe Davidson.
- Mayall said public-private partnerships can work best when “local authorities have already decided and set the policy they want”, at which point private sector partners are better placed to “add their expertise”
- Asked whether there was a barrier to entry to working with local authorities, Mayall said: “With any form of procurement there will be an element of whether developers have a track record or not, and that’s a relatively high barrier to entry. But anybody at whatever scale that a willingness to work as a partner is in a good position. Track records have to start somewhere, and it’s about going in with the right mindset”
- Responding to a question on how the length of the planning process can slow projects down, McCormack said: “The government has tried to reduce planning times, and measures around discharge of conditions have helped, but large scale permissions are still challenging. We’ve advised clients they’d be lucky to get permission within the year from start to finish as there’s so much information now that has to be submitted: preapps, consultation, technical documents”
- She added that on large-scale developments, changes in council leadership and agendas were “inevitable”, but this has to be accepted as part of a long-term process
- Responding to the same question, Brown said: “The churn of officers can have a major impact – but you can manage that, thinking about how the messages have been shared, and who the champions are in the authorities. Regular contact and briefing is the key to success”
- Sale admitted that the housebuilding sector had been “painted in a bad light” given large bonus packages for executives and around Help to Buy, but added: “The challenge is to deliver more, and to a good standard of quality. The industry is delivering well, but not enough, and we need to inject more pace into how we build homes”
- Davidson admitted funding cuts within local authorities were “causing a lot of challenges” but added: “In terms of development funding there is still an awful lot of money available to unlock schemes. Local authorities have a tough time in managing resources, but there is a pool of money that can be drawn on, Homes England for example”
The presentation slides can be accessed here:
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