Friday, 21 June 2019

Leicester Office Development 2019

One of a series of Leicester Business Voice lunchtime events to discuss burning current issues.

This one was superb with three, very knowledgable speakers (Bob Woods  - Mattioli Woods, James Phillips- APB and David Beale- City Council).

The conundrum is how to secure more office employment in the City. Figures show that while Leicester is a top 10 retail destination and 13th in population of UK cities; it is only a top 30 office location. But offices rents for Grade A accommodation are currently only about £18 per sq. ft and this is not enough for a developer to make a profit. Here James Phillips gave an excellent idiot's guide to the necessary development appraisal.

Mattioli Woods Scheme, New Walk, Leicester
I believe that it is all the significant schemes this century have had to have some public sector support to fly. David Beale went through the realistic alternatives for the City Council to help. Apart from the smaller, but very successful schemes of its own, such as the Depot and Friar Mill, the Council can't get into developing the big critical impact ones like the 50,000 sq.ft Mattioli Woods scheme at the bottom of New Walk.

It is not only the total cost and risk per se for a Council, like all others severely restricted in funds, but also rules on state aid. Instead its support has to be more nuanced, like CPO powers (for example at the Waterside – but note the massive effort and time involved), planning briefs and lease underwriting, etc.

Ian Woods, who went through his 30 year journey from a private garage start up to a 600 employee company, had made 5 moves to get to the bottom of New Walk. He explained the rationale each time. And how now the City centre ticked the boxes for his staff, both for the ambience of the place, but also the accessibility for the many walking, using the bus or taking the train to work. And that is what mattered, as staff retention for him was critical.

And what was Ian’s take? We are thinking the wrong way round.  It is not the building, it is attracting the people that is key. Make them want to be here and once here stay. Work more on creating the demand as a place where people want to work. Given that the environment of the City centre has improved and is improving dramatically over the last 10 years with over double the number of people living there in this time, the City is obviously doing something right. Now what is needed is to shout about it a bit more. 

Stolen from Fields of Dreams (1989) – “Build it and they will come” coupled with the Leicester City football club motto: "Keep the faith!” seems to be the answer!

Friday, 31 May 2019

The Cynic in me.

This is not original, but I had not seen it before and I really liked it – so I am sharing it.

We all know about giving 100% effort and are frequently exhorted to give 110% effort. But do you know the maths behind it?

If alpha characters: 
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
are represented as numbers: 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26. 

8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%



11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 

But: A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E  1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%          And then

        B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T    2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%  

But: A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G   1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 118% 

So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty, that while Hard work and Knowledge will  get you close, and Attitude will get you there. 
Its the
 Bullshit and Ass Kissing that will put you at the top of the tree. So now you know why some people are where they are!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Does Good Design Pay

Tremendous thanks to Tim Garratt (Innes England), David Franklin (Franklin Ellis) and David Singleton (DSA Env + Design) for making Landmark Planning's latest pub seminar Monday nights event at the Parcel Yard, Leicester on “Does Good Design Pay” so illuminating and entertaining. I introduced the event with the Planning take on Good Design, stressing the importance of context and providing the latest on public policy at a national level. This then provided the framework for our guests to provide their views from a valuer and designers’ perspective.

We all got so wrapped in the debate forgot to take the guests' photo at the end! 100 professionals heard different sides of the debate in a modified pecha kucha style and then faced questions from an engaged audience. Many meanings to the question let alone the answer. 

One of the big issues is creating and evaluating value over time, with examples of multi award winning schemes failing the test of value within a few years. Do you value internals or externals? How do you value public and private costs? Too many questions to achieve a common consensus, except perhaps that there is a real exercise to be had in educating us and society as a whole, so that the issue can be better appreciated. And then decision makers will put greater value on the design issue in its own right.

And as a total aside, for me, I was very interested that Tim Garratt, as a valuer, reckoned in building sustainability terms that EPC ratings did influence investors significantly  more than BREEAM evaluation.

Any comments from attendees would be particularly welcome?

Friday, 8 March 2019

Citizen Jane: The battle for the City

Still available for over 3 weeks is this brilliant documentary screened last Monday on i player (BBC 4). I recommend it to everyone.

Jane Jacobs
Like most Planners I had read Jane Jacobs book: "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" at university. Even though it was written well over 50 years ago it is still required reading on planning courses. The book is a critique of 1950s urban planning policy, of tearing down existing houses and tenements and replacing them with high rise developments that have little or no relationship the street. Instead it celebrates  community with layered complexity and seeming chaos in active vibrant streets as the ideal location for human interaction.

The documentary brings all this to life so you really relate to the travails and ultimate successes of Jane as an urban activist in both New York and Toronto.

Of course we have all moved on; 50 years is a long time. Jane's views are now the accepted planning wisdom. The rationalists and the decentralists have been totally discredited. But I just wonder how much have we really learnt. We are still creating grand plans, large ’sustainable urban extensions (SUE), with a monoculture of housing divided by roads and parking. Any different use such as schools and shopping still turn their back on the street.

I asked a student the other day after a university field trip to Upton, Northampton a SUE of up to 15,000 people for his impression. The first thing he said was how lifeless the place was, particularly surprising as it was half-term. I think Jane would still be worried that we still have not got it right.

Jane herself is quoted as defining her three key lessons as:

“A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, our of the presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three main qualities:

First, there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space. Public and private spaces cannot ooze into each other as they do typically in suburban settings or in projects.

Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.

And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.”

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

South Africa and All That

This is the first day back in the New Year for me and doubtless many others! And its a bit hard to summon up enthusiasm when lucky for me the break was in South Africa. But I do have reflections on my third visit there?
  1. It was wonderful to be away from the British grey in the warmth, light and blue skies of a beautiful country.
  2. How incredibly friendly and helpful virtually everybody from all races and colours were.
  3. How past race policies continue to mentally scar the country. And that is for both the former ‘oppressors’ and ‘oppressed’.  Not surprisingly, there does seem to be a massive amount of 'baggage' around. And those of Afrikaans background seem to be carrying it more than any other groups.
  4. Major disparities of wealth and power always blight a society and cause problems. UK as much as South Africa. But race makes it so much more obvious in the latter, causing even greater issues. Politicians have to be brilliant to deal with this. Very few can.
  5. And if you want to partake in ‘adventure activities’ in South Africa I can recommend Jean Paul Gardelli c. JoBurg and Sally Petersen c. Cape Town. Great people. Give me a bell.

The iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Planning Major Town Extensions

A Monday morning on site in December is hardly something to set the heart racing, but I had a very interesting time.

Taylor Wimpey and William Davis were presenting their emerging 1500 house Wellington Place scheme at Market Harborough to the Council.

What was interesting was that such a broad range of people were giving their take on their role in the development of a major site.

Photo taken from the safety of compound

Myself and Adrian MacInnes (WD) described the planning and development context. The initial concept was a thought in 1999, but it has taken until 2017 for the first houses to be occupied at the sustainable urban extension. While the planning stage was tortuous it had advantages in that a proper context was set; residential design issues were addressed; and as a consequence the reserved matter applications so far have been relatively painless. It has to be recognised that this lead time from land acquisition to first completions of 18 years is not exceptional for schemes of this scale.

 Simon from Breheny’s described all their initial infrastructure work from roads and bridges to sewers and sustainable drainage areas. The house builders praised the separation of this specialism, which meant that the infrastructure experts could get on and deliver what they do best, while William Davis and Taylor Wimpey could concentrate on delivering houses.

In responding Cllr. King for Harborough drew attention to the multiplicity of roles within the Council that would impinge on the scheme, which, in years to come, will be an integral part of Market Harborough.

Finally, the local Vicar and Church of England Community Worker described where they could get involved, offering soft community development skills, which is more their province than the house builders.

The session really was a master class in the need for an incredibly diverse range of skills to work together. Only if this is achieved will a major new suburb to Market Harborough emerge as a desirable place to live. The event also reminded us that any scheme of this scale from initial concept to the completion of the last houses could take up to 30 years. You have to be in it for the long haul.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

20th Annual Midlands Development Management Conference

This is my summary of my key points from Conference on 8th November. It was World Town Planning Day!

As organiser I am hardly unbiased judge, but I thought t was a great day.

Less clarity and more confusion is how James Burcher (Brum No 5) characterised the new NPPF at the start of the day. On the positive side he saw a clearer route through the presumption in favour of sustainable development aided, of course, by the one case on the NPPF to reach the Supreme Court (Suffolk Coastal et al). Clarity was also improved in the design, green belt and heritage areas. However, the housing supply and demand advice is a buggers muddle and with more recent information, such as changing housing forecasts and Government's praiseworthy wishes to enhance supply there will need to be a NPPF 2019 at the rate we are going. The new Annual Position Statements will likely end up with much litigation  - generally over the summer - when the Courts won’t be sitting leading to further delays over decision making.

James Burcher, Peter Wilkinson and Hugh Richards
outside the venue.

This year we ran a number of double acts to give different perspectives on the same subject. The first related to the prior approval regime where Pritpal Singh and Ed Stacey focussed on classes O and Q. While Pritpal emphasised the reduction in bureaucracy in the system and increased number of housing units created, Ed was able to point to studies, for example in Leicester, where only 21% of such residential conversions met national space standards (as an easy indicator of quality).

David O’Neil gave an extremely clear exposition of dealing with sport and recreation in planning applications.  The new NPPF gives a useful suite of policies (paras 91, 92, 96, 97, 118 and 182). The planning in this area is all about protecting, enhancing and providing land and facilities for sport and recreation And at the same time it is all about balance and working with authorities and providers.

Chryse Tinsley and Tim Rose discussed the difficulties of providing and maintaining sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS). Chryse trailed the soon to be emerging Leicester guidance to developers. If established, as described, with schemes created to enhance the design of new areas instead of just bare engineering solutions, this should be a real improvement on much current provision throughout the country. A view that was heartedly endorsed by Tim as an engineer and generally representing private sector interests.

The role play in the afternoon was a gem. By a 60/40 ratio the majority of the audience did not agree with the Inspector (we have had 90 / 10 against in the past!); and less than 3% of this audience got the costs claim result the same as the Inspector. Albeit our esteemed advocates were as gobsmacked as me with the result. As for lessons be very careful in stating in residential development appeals whether the tilted balance is applicable. This is whatever your viewpoint on the merits of the case. And also make sure you understand the CIL Regulations 122 /123 on suggesting any S106 contributions. Or you could be facing cost claims.

Sue Manns, the forthcoming RTPI President in 2020,  gave a very clear presentation on the relationship of understanding human psychology to secure effective public consultation. The more early consultation with a ‘blank’ sheet of paper, rather than fixed schemes,  even if labelled draft, the better. I wholeheartedly endorse the spirit of the message. However, achieving it in practice, from bitter experience, is incredibly difficult when everything is wanted yesterday.

Finally, we had the Hugh Richards' (Brum No. 5) tour de force on a year of key planning cases with no one leaving before the end as usual. This year, for me, the most useful elements were the context at the beginning and the postscript at the end. For context the 10 key observations of Lord Carnwath in the Suffolk Coastal case (I am afraid you will have to research this yourself, as its too long to write here (Supreme Court May 2017)) were really useful. As a postscript Hugh felt that the new definition of ‘deliverable sites’ in the NPPF would take on great significance going forward.

So as usual a very informative day and thanks so much to all the participants who make it so good. 

Peter Wilkinson