June 2021 marked the start of an exciting new chapter for our business, with the change of ownership from Kier Group to the private equity firm Terra Firma.
The last three months have seen us unveil a new brand identity on developments across our Eastern, Central, Northern and Western regional businesses and focus on future growth plans with greater investment from our new owners.
Those plans include particular expansion in the North West and having an active land acquisition programme that will build on our portfolio of private developments across our operating regions.
The COVID effect
It’s a welcome new phase for the company following the challenges of the last 18 months, particularly from a planning perspective.
During the first lockdown, we went into something of a planning vacuum with it being very difficult to speak to planning officers and get decisions on applications. However, as councils began to respond by embracing digital communications and introducing virtual committee meetings, things became much easier, and the process is now running more smoothly.
Indeed, this has had advantages for my national planning role, with virtual meetings enabling me to speak to Local Authorities from anywhere in the country and share proposals and plans remotely. Of course, face-to-face interaction will always have its place, but a blended model will facilitate smarter ways of working.
Barriers to change
Greater digitalisation of the planning system is just part of the story and is certainly not a silver bullet. There is still a big issue with the speed at which councils are reviewing and approving applications. This is largely because councils are under-resourced, and the key to the problem is better funding so that they can attract more experienced planning officers and increase support staff as well as improving technology and systems.
Significant delays in planning – effectively the first link in the chain – creates a knock-on effect for the entire lifecycle plan of a development impacting not only housebuilders but contractors and the wider supply chain too.
The planning environment
There is a huge amount going on in the planning world at the moment, including the introduction of the National Design Code, First Homes, Future Homes, the Residential Property Developer Tax and, of course, the Planning for the Future White Paper which aims to streamline the planning process.
The Government wants to see more housing delivered by improving the speed at which local plans are produced and by introducing a zonal system that will provide greater clarity on where development should take place. There is a long way to go, and the White Paper has faced criticism from a number of different sectors. Although I welcome the planning review, in my 30+ years’ experience in the industry I have seen many attempts to improve the way that the system works, and few have had a significant impact. We can only hope that this time there will be a collective drive for change that delivers positive benefits for both the private and public sectors.
Planning for the future
With an active land programme over the coming years and a focus on bringing forward more new sites for development, Tilia will be taking a partnership approach to planning.
By working closely with Local Authorities and local communities and having a clear understanding of what our customers want, we will strive to create sustainable developments that meet the needs of all stakeholders and provide quality new homes for generations to come.
Group Planning Director – Tilia Homes