How to protect your home this winter – and don’t forget the insurance!

 

burglaryDo you know how to protect your home from unwanted intruders? We’ve got some helpful tips to share with you but first, did you know that around a third of people living in flats don’t have contents insurance? With your home more likely to be burgled in the winter than during the rest of the year, whether you own your home or are renting,  now is the time to sharpen up your security and make sure you have the right insurance policy in place.

Research from MoneySupermarket shows that around half of us are most nervous about leaving our homes empty while we are on our summer holiday but in fact you are more likely to be burgled in the autumn or winter. More than half of all burglaries take place in the evening or at night – and darker evenings make breaking into your home easier.

So, what can you do to keep potential thieves out of your home? Here are some quick and easy tips to help keep burglars at bay. They may sound obvious but they are worth remembering.

  • Close your windows – dark evenings make it easy for burglars to sneak in and grab valuables near to open windows.
  • Keep keys safe by placing them a safe distance from doors and windows.
  • Make sure tools and ladders are stored out of sight and preferably locked away, so they can’t be used to get into your house or block.
  • Use a light timer – these make it look as if someone’s at home even if the house is empty.
  • Replace the locks – previous residents may still have keys to your home, especially if you are renting but do check with the landlord first.

In a recent spate of burglaries in Ireland, thieves have been putting tape over door locks so they can see whether or not a house is occupied, so check locks for any signs of tampering –  and make sure your home looks lived in when you are away. Don’t forget to cancel any deliveries and make sure a neighbour ensures any post is pushed through your letterbox.

“Claiming on your home insurance may be difficult if someone breaks in without forcing entry, especially if there is no evidence of a crime being committed,” warns MoneySupermarket. This is known as the duty of care, so to make sure your insurer pays out in full, always check windows and doors are locked before you go out, whether you’re just popping to the shops or going out for the night.

And if you are one of the 60% of people living in a flat who don’t have contents insurance because you don’t think anyone can easily gain entry to your home, think again. You may not be first in the line of fire for theft if you live on the upper floors of your block but what about water damage or fire? Leaks in particular cause hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage in blocks of flats every year, so don’t take the risk. Contents insurance costs a lot less than the average Sky or broadband subscription, so do yourself a favour and get covered.

Manchester in the spotlight

blog 3New research from commercial agents Cushman & Wakefield revealed last week that the Manchester property market really is the place to invest for buy-to-let landlords and institutional investors alike.

Second only to London, Greater Manchester has a dynamic, rapidly expanding economy which continues to attract both large and small businesses to the area. In turn, this is bringing talent into the region, with people looking to relocate for work and creating ongoing demand in both the housing and private rental markets. The booming economy is certainly turning Manchester into a buy-to-let hotspot and, according to one local estate agent, the city offers some of the most attractive yields and rental returns in the country, outperforming all other core UK cities when comparing house price inflation. London and Leeds ranked poorly compared to the 9% rise in Manchester.

If you’re looking to invest, Cushman & Wakefield says properties in the M14 postcode can be expected to deliver yields of 10%, with current asking prices averaging at £194,733 and rental prices averaging at £1,636 per month. The M19 postcode – which includes Levenshulme, Burnage, Heaton Mersey, Heaton Chapel and Reddish – and M20 area also came out well in their report, showing yields of up to 8.6%.

Manchester uniThe other success story for the buy-to-let market is the student factor. Landlords in Manchester really benefit from the substantial student population which is attracted to the city by its four highly sought-after universities. Properties located near to any of the universities are in high demand, creating a very dependable local student market. As noted above, Fallowfield in M14 has such high yields because it is heavily populated by students, meaning that you can buy a house and rent it out per person per month.

All these factors also add up to make the city a build-to-rent hotspot. The British Property Foundation said recently that BTR development in the regions is now out-performing London and Manchester is really pulling out ahead.  More than 11, 000 residential units are currently under construction in the city centre, with BTR dominating the market. At Ringley we have joined forces with Manchester-based JP Hay and we are working together to expand their BTR offer in the city. Together, we believe we are delivering a winning offer to clients in the region – combining our considerable  block management, proptech and lettings experience. We will also be building on our success in the Manchester market to deliver these services to BTR clients further south.

The future certainly looks bright for Manchester’s property market. The city has been a popular area for property investment for years and according to a recent report in Landlord Today, “Despite punishing tax changes and political uncertainties… Manchester remains as resilient as ever…” Cushman & Wakefield predict  house price growth of up to a staggering 57% in the city by the end of 2028. The agent believes that rising demand combined with the popularity and affordability of new properties will continue to make Manchester a great proposition. So now could be the perfect time to invest.

To charge or not to charge?

If the Tenants Bill, now going through parliament, becomes law next year letting agents and landlords will only be able to charge for rent and deposits – now to be capped at 5 weeks’ rent; for a change in or early termination of a tenancy; for utility and council tax bills; and for damage or cost caused by a tenant, such as replacing lost keys.

The government says it doesn’t want tenants to be “stung by unexpected costs” and intends to make renting fairer and more transparent. This is sound thinking. At Ringley we support making renting and moving home cheaper.  We also applaud any attempt to outlaw profiteering from tenants who simply need a home – and there are some very high charges levied, often up to £200 per tenant for ‘referencing and tenancy fees’.

feesThere are a number of genuine costs that are passed on by letting agents. Tenant finders fees are paid by a landlord to their letting agent, and rightly so. Where landlords are complaining about this, they need to understand the work that goes into the actual referencing of the tenants, obtaining proof of salary and past tenancies from previous landlords.

Likewise referencing fees. These are a legitimate expense for which it is only fair to charge tenants. I believe a letting agent would be negligent if they suggested their landlord clients should accept tenants without referencing them and until the government chooses to provide a free referencing service, references are a necessary disbursement incurred with every new letting.

If the government is determined to abolish referencing disbursements as well as letting fees then it should centralise and open up the records it holds, providing them free of charge to letting agents and landlords.

Government records that could underpin free referencing include:

– PAYE tax records (to verify earnings), easy now all employers must file electronically,

– CRB checks (to verify ASBO cases and criminal activity)

– Housing Act court cases (to check previous evictions and breach actions)

– Land Registry data (to verify guarantors)

– Tenancy Deposit Service disputes (to gauge tenant waste/neglect)

Consideration would also have to be given to those cases that don’t get as far as the court process – for example, tenants who wreck a property and leave it to the landlord to foot the bill. Without previous landlord references they could move on and do it again, so maybe some kind of review system for tenants could be developed, with the proviso that if it has been a bad exit from the tenancy, landlords could keep their references anonymous. It would also help if the government could compel the credit agencies to share credit checks

TenancyMoving on to tenancy fees, most letting agents adopt the same tenancy for every let and so it is reasonable to assume that this task involves no more costly administration than filling in the direct debit form to pay the rent. That said, at Ringley we pay for and use legal software that automatically updates our agreements when laws change. We do need to input the details of the tenancy and set up the tenancy in the system to ensure that it collects rent on time and recognises when inspections are due. We are also liable to ensure that if things are done via the internet that the person really is who they say they are on the passport and that we have checked this. Also, non-UK resident tenants need a ‘right to rent’ check. If this is not carried out, the landlord can be fined.

However, given that there are mobile Apps such as PlanetRent that take all the admin out of the deal (offers, referencing, move in monies, e-signing contracts, move in checks and compliance), for just £12 a tenancy an agent can do the whole transaction without a shred of paper.  Admin staff can be redeployed to lettings management or accounts, saving agents a lot more than £12.  If a landlord wishes to use his/her own agreement then they should pay the costs of any additional administration incurred.  This would make a huge difference financial and time wise to both landlords and agents.

So some payments are legitimate and others are not. As the Tenants Bill continues its passage through Parliament, let’s hope sufficient scrutiny is given to determining which are which.

Fire safety – someone else’s problem?

Since last year’s Grenfell Tower tragedy, fire safety in blocks of flats has been right at the top of property managers’ agendas. The issue of whether or not the front doors to people’s homes are compliant with fire safety regulations has been looked at in detail during the long-running Grenfell inquiry and the government is now carrying out an investigation into the fire door industry. Testing of fire doors to make sure they meet the standard required by the Building Regulations started in October and, so far, none of the doors has failed the tests.

fireWhile testing is ongoing, the National Fire Chiefs Council says that the additional risk to public safety is low and in the event of a fire, people should continue to follow the existing fire procedures for their building. The NFCC advises that smoke alarms should be tested regularly and the front doors to flats should ideally be fitted with a working self-closing device.

Your property manager is responsible for ensuring that the fire doors in your block are working correctly. As with any life-saving product, a fire door should be tested in the same way as emergency lighting, a smoke or fire alarm, or a fire extinguisher would be. Any slight alteration to the door or its surroundings can affect its performance. But there are also things residents can do themselves to make sure their building is safe.

First, be vigilant. Don’t leave fire doors in the common areas propped open and do alert your property manager if you think any of them is faulty – for example one is not closing properly or is damaged in some way. Here are some things to look out for:

  • The gaps around the top and sides of a closed fire door should be less than 4mm. Any more than that and it may not work properly.
  • Are there seals around the door or frame, and if so are they intact with no sign of damage? These seals are vital to the fire door’s performance, expanding if they become hot, so if your doors don’t have seals, raise this with your property manager.
  • Are the door hinges firmly fixed? There should be three or more of them, with no missing or broken screws.
  • Check the door closes properly: open it about halfway, then let go and allow it to close by itself. All fire doors should be fitted with a working self-closer unless they lead to riser cupboards or plant rooms which are visited by contractors and kept locked.

Other issues that can increase the chance of a fire spreading through a block of flats are:

  • any new holes produced by building works, such as installation of cables or pipes, that has not been sealed by the contractor.
  • existing holes that are reopened by the removal of a service and not sealed.
  • damage to external cladding or boarding.

Unless your block has on-site staff, it’s possible for problems that could impact on fire safety to be missed. So for the sake of you and your neighbours’ peace of mind it’s important to take responsibility yourself and not assume that fire safety is always someone else’s problem.

To sub-let or not to sub-let?

 

Airbnb and other short-term lettings websites are a great way to turn your spare room – or even your whole flat – into a nice little earner. Or are they? If you live in a leasehold flat and sub-let a room – even on an infrequent basis – you could find yourself in trouble with your mortgage lender, your insurance company, the freeholder or the neighbours. And in the worse-case scenario you could be in danger of forfeiture which means Airbnblosing your right to the lease.

The landmark case of Nemcova v Fairfield Rents in 2016 turned the spotlight on short-term lettings. The ruling found that a short-term let doesn’t constitute the use of the flat as a private dwelling. As most leases state that flats may only be used as a private dwelling, it is fair to assume that most flat owners will be in breach of the lease if their home is used in any other way.

But don’t despair. If you do your homework first and get the right permissions you could still be onto a winner. So what do you need to do?

First, check your lease. This is the key document for all leasehold issues. Look for any clauses outlawing sub-letting or that stop you giving up “possession of the property” without prior consent from your freeholder. Leases come in all shapes and sizes and some are easier to interpret than others. If in doubt, our legal team at Ringley is available for help and advice on all lease-related issues, so do give us a call if there is something in your documents that you don’t understand.

The next step is to contact your freeholder. They don’t have to give you permission to sub-let your flat but they may be quite happy for you to do so. However, they may give their permission but charge you for subletting the property. Where this is the case, do the maths. Is it still worthwhile?

Even if the answer is ‘yes’, don’t start listing your property yet, Check the small print on your mortgage agreement or contact your lender to find out whether you need their permission too. Don’t forget to notify your insurance provider of your intention to let out your property so that you can make sure your guests’ belongings will be covered under your own contents insurance policy. Again, this may mean an additional charge.

Last but not least, consider your neighbours. They  may be less than impressed by the potential for noise and disruption to the block if people are coming and going on a regular basis, particularly if they are long leaseholders with a vested interest in the wellbeing and “quiet enjoyment” of residents. No amount of extra income will make up for falling out with your neighbours or even finding yourself involved in a full-blown dispute, so think carefully before going down this route.

And a final word of caution. Don’t forget – even with the most forgiving of neighbours and regardless of any other permissions – under the Greater London Council Act 1973, if you live in London you can only sub-let your home for up to 90 days a year.

Ringley placements- In the shoes on an employer.

stepping into the shoes of a would be employerA little know fact about Ringley is that we have University and Schools work placement program that runs every week and most weeks have at least two young people working within us learning life and business skills

 

This week we have a little fun with for students who joined us the part of their course from Westminster College

 

Nathaniel in our facilities management department was the mentor assigned to these four young people.  Put politely, some in the group lacked motivation, work readiness and enthusiasm was low but we wanted them to learn something memorable from Ringley to stand them in good stead.  So, we decided that we would put them in the shoes of a would be employer and give them an opportunity for some critical self reflection.

 

On their last day with us you, we invited the young group to the Boardroom for some brainstorming.  In truth you could see that some of the group has started winding down before well before lunch.   The brainstorming exercise we gave them was to list skills, attributes and behaviours a would be employer would look for.

 

The expected list of punctual, reliable, motivated, respectful, helpful, courteous, and few more soon was emerged.  We then turned the conversation to the behaviours that were not acceptable –  soon the truth hit home that playing on a mobile phone, listening to music through headphones (as soon as a Manager is not looking) were not work place behaviours.  They got to learn that a business has eyes and ears

 

Having produced this list, we left the room having given the group 20 minutes to write a reference for their manager to sign – using as many of the words they honestly could from the board.  It soon became apparent that they would be unable to use words that they had not demonstrated during their time with us.   All still managed to put together references demonstrating some positive points, but the look on their faces when they realised that most of the words that would really mean to something to an employer would have to be omitted was priceless.

 

I enjoyed sharing with the group that no matter where you are, or for how long, you should make sure that you learn whatever you can from everyone around you.  We also shared with them that Ringley recruits apprentices and have sponsored a number of people all the way through university as well as offering training contracts in accountancy, computer programming, building surveying and law.

 

The leader of the pack left with a cheerful “thanks Miss” waving his reference in his hand.   We hope that over the next weeks and months all of the group will reflect on the fact that their references could have been so much better  – we hope a valuable life lesson was delivered.

New merger, new market, new opportunity

 

There are exciting times ahead for us here at Ringley. We have just joined forces with Manchester-based lettings agent JP Hay to expand our coverage in the North and Midlands and to develop our presence in the rapidly expanding build-to-rent (BTR) market.

Manchester skylineManchester is key to this rapidly expanding sector of the market, with 11,135 residential units now being built in the city centre – the majority of which are BTR. According to Deloitte’s Manchester Crane Survey 2018 there are 4,172 more units coming on line this year than in 2017.

The expansion of BTR in the city is being underpinned by developments such as the arrival of HS2, a growing student population which currently stands at 60,000, plus a regional economy on the rise. Manchester is a place people want to live and BTR products are set to dominate the supply of residential property in the city. As a well-respected local lettings and property management agency which has been awarded both Best Sales & Lettings (2015 and 2018) and Best Residential Property Management Company (2018), JP Hay are perfectly placed to join Ringley (also a multi-award-winning business!) in maximising the opportunities that this presents. The company already manages 333 BTR units and is set to acquire more.

A recent article in Property Week stated that “long term BTR success is built on people” We agree. JP Hay MD Samantha Hay shares the same passion for designing quality customer journeys that we at Ringley have always strived to achieve. We are really excited about integrating the best of both our businesses into the bespoke PlanetRent software we have designed in order to solve the challenges brought to us by key institutional clients such as Longharbour, Patrizia, Moda, Grosvenor, the Blackmore Group and Curlew Capital.

The merger underpins Ringley’s BTR delivery and strengthens our position outside London and the South East. The Manchester business will be branded Life by Ringley, covering operational sites throughout the North and the Midlands and we will be expanding our existing service charge and block management activities by adding Manchester to our Liverpool operation. We are committed to contributing to the growth and success of the Northern Powerhouse initiative and our expanding presence in the north of England will be supported by our London-based legal and financial operational teams. Our London based business will now become Home by Ringley.

New company branding and logos are now in development, so watch this space for more about our exciting new venture in the weeks to come.

Noise nuisance or domestic abuse?

Gudrun Burnet is working to tackle domestic abuse in residential blocks by working with property managers to raise awareness.
Gudrun Burnet is working to tackle domestic abuse in residential blocks by working with property managers to raise awareness.

If you live in, own or manage a residential block, chances are that at some point you have had to deal with a difficult leaseholder or tenant. Generally a quiet word is enough to shame noisy neighbours into turning down the TV, throwing their party guests out at a reasonable time or keeping their music at a less-than-ear-shattering level. But sometimes anti-social behaviour is more difficult to tackle. You may be able to hear other residents rowing – or worse. These situations are uncomfortable and most of us would prefer not to get involved.

A new campaign launched this year is raising awareness of domestic violence and abuse and aims to give both residents in residential blocks and their property managers a range of tools and strategies so that anyone in crisis can be supported rather than simply treated as another nuisance neighbour.

It is truly shocking that every week in England and Wales two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner and the police receive 100 calls an hour reporting domestic abuse. Men as well as women are affected. But domestic abuse is a hidden crime and people are often too afraid to speak out.

In response, earlier this year,  the Chartered Institute of Housing launched Make a Stand. This campaign is mainly aimed at social housing providers but the initiative is just as relevant to private blocks.

The campaign’s four pledges are:

  • To put in place a policy to support residents who are experiencing domestic abuse
  • To make information about national and local domestic abuse support services available on your website, and in other places which are easily accessible to residents and staff
  • To put in place an HR policy and procedure on domestic abuse, or to incorporate this into an existing policy, to support members of staff who are experiencing domestic abuse
  • Appoint a ‘champion’ in your organisation to own the activity you are doing to support people experiencing domestic abuse.

A hundred organisations have already signed up to the CIH pledge, so why not get your block involved.

Gudrun Burnet, Senior Business Partner and the lead for tackling domestic abuse at Peabody, believes block managers have a vital role to play in raising awareness and in supporting anyone who may be experiencing domestic abuse. But residents can play their part too. So next time you hear your neighbours shouting, don’t dismiss it simply as noise nuisance; take a moment to ask yourself whether or not there is anything your block manager could do to ensure your fellow residents stay safe in their own homes.

 

Shaking up property disputes – it’s about time

 

law reformIt really is all change in our industry at the moment as yet another consultation is unveiled by government – this time on the idea of setting up a new ‘Housing Court’.

Proposals were outlined yesterday (13 November) by Communities Secretary James Brokenshire that aim to shake up the property dispute system and find better ways of resolving legal issues between landlords and tenants.

The Government wants views and opinions on the:

  • private landlord possession process
  • user experience in both the county courts and the First-tier Tribunal for property cases
  • case for a new Housing Court
  • case for other structural changes such as an extension of the remit of the property tribunal

Other proposals include reducing the need for multiple hearings in different courts, transferring certain types of housing cases between the courts and tribunal to get quicker resolution and providing better guidance for landlords and tenants to help them access the legal system.

At the moment legal disputes that centre on housing are dealt with in a range of different ways, depending on the issue in question. This is confusing and can put people off seeking a solution to their housing problems. Some families and vulnerable tenants live in fear of being forced to move or being evicted if they complain about a housing problem. This isn’t good enough. And the problem isn’t all one-sided. Landlords may also struggle to get their property back even when they have a legitimate reason to do so.

The government hopes the proposals set out in the consultation will help sort out these problems, making it easier for tenants to pursue disputes and helping enforce their rights under the law.  Landlords could also be more confident in offering longer, more secure tenancies where appropriate.

Bodies representing landlords are particularly interested in reforming the current possession process – which can be long drawn out and costly. The National Landlords Association will be asking government in particular to look at the Section 8 possession process. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of landlord and tenant law, Section 8 requires landlords to seek a court order to gain possession of their property where a tenant has breached the terms of their agreement.

At the moment, claims the NLA, it takes about 18 weeks between a landlord making a repossession claim and getting the property back. This can cost more than £5000. The “sticking plaster” alternative to Section 8 is Section 21 which kicks in only after a fixed-term tenancy ends or during a periodic tenancy but no reason is needed for serving a tenant with an eviction notice and tenants must vacate the premises within two months. Most tenancies are ended by the tenant – but in a minority of cases landlords are within their rights to ask a tenant to leave. Reform is long overdue and this consultation may be an opportunity to swing the balance back into the landlord’s favour when a tenant is at fault.

What do you think? The government is looking for views and opinions from both landlords and tenants so to have your say, go to https://bit.ly/2DDmWl3. The consultation runs until 22 January 2019.

7 years after the Mary Portas Town Centre review the government announces a 697m fund to revive high streets!

With life leaving the retail centres of many towns, developers are eyeing commercial property for residential conversion. With multi tenanted buildings being the end result are we acting in an appropriate manner or are we constructing ticking time bombs?  In many cases, creating residential space from commercial use can create problems, so what issues do developers have to be aware of and what are the pitfalls?

Mary-Anne Bowring, Managing Director of the Ringley Group, investigates. Life has been leaving our town centres for as long as I can remember. Nostalgically one can look back and see Britain as a  proud nation of shop keepers, so what happened?  Was it the car, the large supermarkets or planning policy that has killed off our high streets; and, what role can developers play in its revival?

Perhaps it started with Henry Ford who in 1900 said Ford will provide cars for the great multitude and census results suggesting car ownership at 77% of the population perhaps Henry succeeded.   Car Free Section 106 restrictions were listed in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and many a permission since can seem illogical with developments sitting side by side with quotas from 0.6 spaces per unit to 1.8 spaces per unit.  It is then left for the private sector to police the excess parking that migrates from one site to the neighbours adjoining.

The Mary Portas Town Centre Review which was commissioned by Government in December 2011 perhaps has had little ownership until now some 7 years later the government finally announces a 697m fund to revive high streets.  But what will emerge to be the town centre of the future has yet to be seen.   It is clear that our largely Victorian or pre-war high streets do not meet modern day requirements;  parking provision is poor and expensive, units are often small and suffer lack of ceiling height or opportunities for mezzanine floors, basement stock areas and are built on a grid system with more structural partitions than optimum.  Business rates are high and unlike shopping centres a start up rarely gets the opportunity of a turnover rent.  Will the cut of 1/3 off business rates for small business over the next two years be enough.

The positives are that unlike the emerging economies, (where it is commonplace every 15 years or so for something new and better to be built in another part of town leaving decaying buildings and dereliction behind), generally we in Britain fare better than most for finding alternative uses.  Our banks first became wine bars, now gastro pubs and weve seen the mass arrival of low cost retailers; the pound shops and charity shops. This is not revival, this is survival.

In most towns and cities transport still converges on the town centre, so we need an absolute presumption in favour of jobs being located in town centres.  With 1  of every 7* now being spent now being on-line, (was 1 in 10 back in 2012) the internet makes it certain that less of these jobs will, in the future, be in retail.  So never mind the Mary Portas recommendation of zero rates in town centres but the whole town centre rating system needs re-structuring.   Do return frontages really add extra rateable value?; can we really look at changes in zoning based on a national multiple (who are probably making a loss at the location with their store lying un-refurbished for years)?  And if our national green strategy is to use the car less we need to live where our jobs are, so an absolute presumption of living and live work in our town centres.  The dichotomy right now is that our town centres are rather depressing places to live!   Institutional Build to Rent with flexible workspaces and amenities are coming but not fast enough.

This government needs to set a vision for the future for town centres; we need street scapes, turnover rates, and a deadline for every Council to put in place a town centre master plan.  We are a lifestyle society so the focus needs to be upon what would make a town centre a place to choose to go for a walk.  Why cant our town centres be dotted with childrens play hubs?  Why cant we encourage the private sector to put in free internet hub stations alfresco in our high streets where once we had telephone boxes, which we dont need any more.   Why cant 2018-19 be the year that all national lottery funded art simply has to go to our high streets?   Lets encourage lifestyle providers to our high streets, such as hair dressers, nail salons, fitness centres, making the high street the place to go and get ready for the night out.   Say No to supermarket rule, No to soft option planning permissions for hotels and supermarkets on our green fields.  We have a great compulsory purchase system so let each planning authority have a compulsory purchase officer involved in every larger planning approval.  As consumers were all sick of hearing of the endless profit growth by our top supermarkets at our expense, which is  softened not one bit by their poor social agendas, (which is literally a token gesture, if you spend enough), coupled with the destruction of our town centres.

One of the age old problems we face in the UK is highlighted by inner city regeneration, for example,   Docklands first,  DLR later. A classic case of horse before the cart.  Whilst central and local Government has much work to do there are real opportunities for developer led town centre initiatives.  Firstly one can achieve much higher densities in town centres, secondly, localism is unlikely to present any threats, thirdly car free is less offensive.

Usually there will be a presumption to a commercial ground floor but if one can bring 100+ members to get the gym started and offer the user a turnover or rent free opportunity is this not community planning gain in-situ.   Developers did go through a spate of private gym provision in developments only to find that some Councils went around shutting these down as the management companies entrusted to their future running could not provide substantive documentation to confirm that all attendees had been inducted or that a responsible person was on duty.

Nationally we are trying to move away from doctors and dentists in converted houses and towards mega health centres again this is a great opportunity for our developers to join up with the medical profession and find new partnerships. So its now time for the health profession, like the fire brigade and highways departments, to be a statutory consultee in our planning process.    With the transport hubs town centred it is a win, win for both.  And, it is easy to find an alternative use for the house that became the doctors surgery, after-all it was a house in the 1st place.

Why cant all building refurbishment in town centre zones be VAT free?  That way there might be a presumption to refurbishing our deserted department stores but inevitably a number of lower rise buildings will need to go, firstly to increase the density and secondly to bring about some car friendly space.  Our town centres lack people and we must bring them back.

Retail buildings do bring challenges for development, we have space to light and air-exchange requirements to meet; but does this not bring great opportunities to create on-trend loft style units? Whilst we have overlooking rules, with the appropriate screening could this be an opportunity to open up atriums and create internal gardens?

Perhaps if our libraries are to become less space hungry e-book centres then we can propose libraries for redevelopment and think of e-book centres as a leisure use for the new generation of mixed use town centre developments.  This dis-investment from larger library buildings could fund some of the compulsory purchase necessary to stitch together more development attractive sites.

Town centre development can be frustrated by occupiers in situ.  Again a great opportunity for central government to unlock the rigidity that hinders the ability of our town centres to adapt.  Government has the power,  through the rating system, to  granting business rate relief for leases agreed outside the 1954 Act, i.e., with no guarantee of continuance and therefore less compulsory purchase value, thereby promoting an environment for town centre redevelopment.   That is not to say that development cannot take place with occupiers in situ.  We all saw the banks raise capital by auctioning off their freeholds and becoming tenants, with opportunities still remaining  on our beleaguered high streets for more of the same.  Department stores could very easily downsize, loose some floors to residential and have new penthouse floors on the roof.  Management company structures need not disturb the developers right to retail rental income, as the developer can grant his investment vehicle a head lease thereby making the retail unit a member of the management company, but removing the investment income.

Whats to say that we cant see a structural change by our ground rent investors too with them owning not just leasehold reversions but a stake in our high streets also?  Compulsory purchase calculations include the value of the building + disturbance, the later refers to loss of goodwill, perhaps a period of double costs/overheads whilst setting up trade in the alternative location.

Lets expect our government to declare the land ownership structure in  town centre zones.  For 4 per title this is public knowledge anyway, but expensive and time-consuming to put together.  Let us not expect our developers to put this together, lets target local planning authorities to identify and publish this annually and create a forum for contacting land owners thereby enabling opportunities.

It is so sad when you drive into a town centre only to see shops crudely bricked up to be offensively reclaimed as housing. It is time for a robust strategy, and a design framework to re-claim these areas as housing is as uniformly pleasing as a normal Victorian street housing.  Perhaps by trimming the outskirts we could displace some of these users back into our high streets.

Arguably the world is now brand driven and if Dreams and Sports Direct can boast acceptable percentages of their stores are in town we need to tell Britains bigger businesses that the best community initiative you can have is to send the message  that cool brands are in town.  With consumers flocking out of town in the recent years the amount of out-of-town retail floor space has risen by 30% whilst that in-town has fallen by 14% and it is the current planning rules that have allowed these new out-of-town retail developments to thrive. If together we can orchestrate the moving of the consumer into an experience-led high street then we stand a chance.