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 a 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 do you most enjoy about your job?
I enjoy the hands-on nature of the role, it is a fast-paced and varied role working across many different aspects of the early stages of the development of a project. From identifying a site to setting a design scheme that works both financially and from a planning perspective, it is a huge challenge. I ensure I work with first-class contacts, consultants and lawyers which is achieved via networking both inside and outside the industry, which is a key part of my role.
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 currently facing the property industry 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.
Tell us about your typical day?
I usually get to work at 8am but my day will have started long before that as I often take calls (hands-free, of course) when I am in the car. All day I will be talking to people about land opportunities and contract negotiations, and chatting to lawyers, planning consultants, land agents and so on. I need to balance my time in the office with getting out and about networking; clearly networking has been limited during lockdown so I have found myself in the office more often than not.
A key part of the job is seeing what our competitors are up to, be it good, bad or indifferent, it all helps in understanding the business better. Information is key and my ear needs to be close to the ground as well as on the computer mining information, checking guidance and being exposed to new ideas. Whilst I usually finish between 6-7pm, being available is key so I am always on the end of the phone or an iPad at home, in the office or on holiday!
What are 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.
What do you do outside of your job?
As a father of three, family life keeps me busy as well as a keen interest in sports. I play golf to single figures as well as representing my local tennis club and now that restrictions are lifted, I am able to get back to managing community football matches. I plan to ride from Pisa to Rome later this year with 50 to 60 friends on behalf of a myeloma charity. Then just to fill in any spare time I may have I am also on the board of governors at the local prep school, where we have just completed a fantastic sports complex.
What do you think makes a house a home?
That’s simple, my family makes my house a home. As people move through their journey of life it is important that there is a variety of good-quality homes to reflect the different life stages and to have a home that reflects what is important to them, whatever stage they are at.
*Dudley Mills is Land & Planning Director at Kebbell
This post has originally been featured in Property Investor Today.