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HOW LAND SPECULATORS 0PERATE AT OUR EXPENSE

By Brian Pain

On April 23rd this year, the Daily Mail ran with the headline:


DEVELOPERS RUINING OUR COUNTRYSIDE: THEY BANKROLL FARMERS SEEKING PERMISSION TO BUILD ON THEIR FIELDS

  • Speculators are trying to exploit a loophole to build houses on open fields

  • Gladman developments offers farmers a chance to increase the value of land

  • ‘Predatory’ agent is pursuing 102 applications for housing developments

  • Government wants to build 200,000 homes each year to meet demand

  • Country Life said villages have been ‘stripped of their natural defences

The Government’s chosen policy of using developer-led provision of new housing has meant that the wrong type of houses are being built in the wrong places.


LOCAL PLAN


As things currently stand, if there is not an adopted local plan with a demonstrable five-year supply of new houses, Swale in general and Faversham, in particular, are vulnerable to opportunistic self- styled land promoters making speculative planning applications for new housing estates on countryside alongside existing settlements.


Probably the most predatory is Gladman operating under the name of Gladman Developments Ltd.


At present Gladman is attempting to get permission for a vast housing development of 5000 housing units between the M2 and the currently discrete village of Sheldwich, swallowing North Street along the way. Also, they have started the process of seeking planning

permission for a further 250 houses at Ham Road. This is a very sensitive area encroaching onto the marshy farmland bordering Faversham Creek and the historic Saxon Shore Way and is much used and enjoyed by many walkers and ramblers.


Elsewhere in Kent the company is seeking planning permission for 300 houses adjacent to Howletts animal park in Littlebourne, 360 houses at near Newington, 450 on farmland

at Margate and 840 at Aylesford amongst others, to say nothing of the very many opportunistic applications they are currently making nationally.


Gladman and other “land promoters” make lucrative profits for themselves and massive ones for the landowners by exploiting the planning system and working against local wishes.


Gladman persuade landowners to pursue planning permission on their land for a 20-25% share in the profits when it is sold on for development without having to bear any risk

of investing in land or building themselves. As a result of the lack of risk and the high potential profits, they can afford to operate on a ‘no win no fee’ basis, which is obviously highly attractive to landowners.


In September 2018 the website www.parliament.uk stated that the average in value of greenfield sites granted planning permission for housing in 2015 went from £21,000 per hectare to £1.95 MILLION, a near 100 fold increase. In fact, this is likely to be an underestimate in the South east of the UK. It also went on to state that successful applications on brownfield sites are less profitable.


The only regard land promoters pay to planning constraints, such as protected landscapes and settlement boundaries, is how to get round them. Usually by targeting areas that are unable to demonstrate a five year housing land supply. In these circumstances, the National Planning Policy Framework prescribes a presumption in favour of sustainable development. This loophole that they see as having a weak planning policy framework because of not having a local plan or not being able to demonstrate a five- year supply of housing land. In such situations they know that they have an extremely good chance of winning planning appeals.


Gladman have a history of repeatedly appealing adverse planning decisions costing local authorities extra expense and causing serious added workload to planners.


This delays the planning departments preparation of obligatory future local plans weakens the application of existing plans and increases the potential for further predatory actions by the promoters. It also increases anxiety for those living in the communities affected. Gladman claims that it achieves planning permission for more than 10,000 houses a year.


Gladman Development Director, David Gladman, in a recent High Court case said:

“We normally only target local authorities whose planning is in relative disarray and vulnerable to a quick planning application for a suitable site. Gladman comes into its own where local authorities are in a state of flux, whilst they either have no up-to-date local plan, or, temporarily they do not have a five- year supply of consented building plots.”


Experienced land promoters, such as Gladman, that can afford expensive lawyers and multiple appeals, often win the fights against local authorities at appeal, leaving them confident in their ability to gain planning permission that goes against local wishes.

Gladman’s own website states: “Whilst we try to achieve planning permission locally, sometimes for a variety of reasons this is not possible, and the site is refused permission at planning committee. This is nothing to worry about; on average around two thirds of our sites go through during the appeal process.”


Meanwhile, councils are retreating from contesting the appeals due to high costs and perceived low chance of success, thereby failing to stand up for their own policies.


A study undertaken by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)* in 2019 showed that 60% of approval for appeals from land promoters were granted when local authorities did not have a 5-year housing supply as against 30% when they did.


THE PLAYBOOK


The playbook of these speculators usually follows the same pattern:

  1. Identify a parcel of green field land in proximity to an attractive local town or village such as Faversham. (An added advantage of a green field site is that there is zero VAT payable on the development costs).

  2. Persuade the landowner, commonly a farmer, to allow them to make a planning application for housing on their behalf with the prospect of potentially millions of pounds of unearned profit if permission is granted.

  3. The application is made with the promise of a wonderful new and ‘sustainable’ development of environmentally sensitive new houses in a parkland setting, with an element of ‘affordable’ housing and where, given they then can claim, given the relative proximity to an existing settlement, the new occupants will obviously want to walk into the existing town rather than use cars.

  4. A glossy brochure is produced for a pre-application consultation with the local community stressing the green open space being ‘created’. This is particularly cynical given the fact that the site is usually open countryside in the first place.

  5. If at first the application is refused, appeal again and, if necessary, again until the local council concedes. Gladman will often continue this process for years as the cost to them is dwarfed by the potential profits to be made by gaining planning permission.


THE PLOT THICKENS


Earlier in 2022, the volume housebuilder Barratt bought Gladman Developments for £250m thereby enabling Gladman to remove the need to market the sites after winning housing permission, and Barratt’s housebuilding companies direct access to many more lucrative places to destroy the countryside and irreplaceable agricultural land in order to construct environmentally substandard dreary housing estates.


In order to reduce the potential for harmful speculative development proposals, the CPRE has made the following recommendations

  • Follow through on commitments in the Housing White Paper to reduce the potential for speculative development. Where, as a result of the failure of the developers to build-out existing sites or seek permission in sites identified in development plans or brown field registers, the five-year housing supply for an area dips below the expected level, councils should be given time to remedy the situation. For example, councils need time to kick-start stalled developments or bring in new operators to promote existing sites before the presumption in favour of sustainable development creates the need to grant planning permission for new sites. If the councils’ actions are not successful, then sites for new development should be identified strategically through an accelerated local plan process, and not on a first-come-first- served basis by speculators.

  • Cap local housing targets at a level that is actually deliverable in terms of the housebuilding industry. This would make it feasible for housebuilding targets to be met.

  • Instruct the Planning Inspectorate that, where a local plan is up to date and a 5-year housing land supply is reasonably demonstrated, that the decision on whether to approve or refuse planning permission should lie solely with the local planning authority. The only exception should be if the proposal in question unequivocally accords with all the relevant policies of the development plan.

  • Reform the way in which the market works so that the uplift in value of land as a result of planning consent is not so significant as to be irresistible to speculators. This should be done while still retaining a reasonable expectation of return for landowners, compatible with providing homes that are affordable to local people, mitigating the impacts of development and providing the infrastructure necessary to support it.


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