Boot on other foot as builder beats system

LAND and development group Henry Boot hailed its success in winning planning permission for new building plots, helping it trade through tough but stable markets.

The Sheffield-based group, which promotes land through the planning system, said it now has a record number of consented sites ready to sell or under offer.

The group’s strategic land business, Hallam Land, had a “very successful period in terms of planning success”, it said. The company added its success converting land since July is helping it trade in line with expectations.

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“Trading conditions within our markets continue to be challenging but relatively stable,” said the group.

Henry Boot added its construction arm is trading ahead of target despite the sector’s weakness.

“You’ve got to work hard to achieve anything in today’s market,” said finance director John Sutcliffe. “The times when returns were achieved by buying something, holding on for a few months and selling it have gone.”

The group’s consented sites span the UK, and it also has large strategic sites in Bridgwater and Exeter, where land will be sold over a longer period.

Hallam Land sold two “relatively small” sites in Peterborough and Mansfield during the period, buying three more.

Land trading since July boosted its strategic portfolio to 9,069 acres, including 1,833 acres which it owns. More than 21 per cent of its total holdings have planning permission or planning allocations.

However, Mr Sutcliffe said its success came despite a laborious planning system. He said schemes are increasingly going to appeal with the Planning Inspectorate after being rejected by council planning committees, even though they have been approved by their own planning officers.

“There’s an increasing number of sites going through to the Planning Inspectorate and by and large the Planning Inspectorate is finding in favour of them on appeal,” he said.

“It seems to us in the generality that the Government’s changes to the planning system to free it up and make it more readily accessible is working at the planning officer level. The people who are rejecting them are members (councillors).”

Recent successful appeals include a 12.5Mw wind farm scheme in Selby, a 200-plot development in Stratford-upon-Avon and 132 plots in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire. Other appeals being reviewed by the Planning Inspectorate include 292 plots in Bradford and 200 plots in Grimsargh, Lancashire.

Analysts at house broker Investec said Henry Boot is “beating the system”.

They said: “Numerous planning sites are being progressed through the planning regime, and though it remains fundamentally obstructive, Henry Boot has the expertise to push applications though, while others effectively face a barrier to entry in the land market.”

In partnership with Royal Bank of Scotland, the group’s development arm has sold a former Dixon Motors site in Thorne, Doncaster, to Tesco. The supermarket giant plans a 36,000 sq ft store.

It is also due to start a joint venture with Calderdale & Huddersfield NHS Trust to convert a mill into medical facilities.

Mr Sutcliffe added its construction arm should grow sales to about £60m this year, a significant achievement amid competitive markets.