Interview: Shaun Andrews from GL Hearn

Mon 16th November 2015, 11:02 am

Sitematch London catches up with Shaun Andrews, head of London strategy and investor and developer planning, at Sitematch sponsor GL Hearn, which was recently acquired by Capita.

Can you say something about your role and responsibilities at GL Hearn?

In 2010 I was appointed as head of investor and developer planning at GL Hearn, a leading UK property consultancy.  I head up the 20 strong specialist investor and developer planning team in GL Hearn’s London office, including advising clients in London's biggest Opportunity Area at Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea – specialising in the development of tall buildings.

Following Capita’s acquisition of GL Hearn in July 2015, I now sit on the board of directors of GL Hearn and Capita Real Estate. The two businesses provide end-to-end planning, design and project/programme management of social, affordable and high-end residential developments.

I also head up London Strategy, which is a cross-sector business focus group which targets new initiatives both by key topics and clients. Since being launched just over a year ago, the work led by the London Strategy group has raised the profile of GL Hearn, both with clients, and within government.

Could you explain how the MOST tool works?

GL Hearn has developed a unique mapping tool to identify major new opportunities for densification in accessible locations across Greater London and beyond. The map-based system, known as MOST (Major Opportunity Search Tool), is the first to combine data from several sources to locate major opportunities at an early stage. The tool allows for bespoke searches ranging from London-wide or borough level to single locations.

How can MOST help local authorities unlock land for housing?

MOST is able to combine a range of key criteria that impact potential development, including existing and future infrastructure, which enables local authorities to create heat maps of potential development opportunities. Local authorities will be able to review the whole borough, and identify areas that can offer opportunities for improving densities that will meet the increasing London Plan targets for new homes.

This holistic approach allows local authorities to take an overview of the borough, using data from a number of various sources at national, regional and local level; something which has not been achieved before.

What are the key outcomes of GL Hearn's most recent planning survey?

GL Hearn, in conjunction with the BPF (British Property Federation) prepares an annual independent assessment of the planning system in the UK, known as the annual planning survey. Now in its 4th year, this comprehensive review of all major planning applications across London has been undertaken to assess overall submissions, determination periods, and decisions.

The survey this year saw a significant decline in the number of major planning applications determined in Greater London, coupled with an increase in average submission to determination times.

Our survey suggests that the primary cause of the problem may lie in chronic under-resourcing at local planning authorities (LPAs). Over half of LPAs we surveyed said they were under-resourced and not a single one claimed to have excess capacity. Plus, with a further round of cuts looming, under-resourcing is anticipated to be by far the most significant challenge facing LPAs going forward.

One area that seems set to suffer as a result is housing delivery. Two thirds of applicants think the current planning environment is bad for accelerating housing delivery.This is something that spells particularly bad news for Greater London where there is already a severe shortage in new supply.

What are the lessons local authorities can take away from the outcome?

From our research it is evident that applicants would even be happy for further investment to come out of their own pockets – two thirds would consider paying more in planning fees for the guarantee of a faster service. At the same time, work may also be required to refine the communicty infrastructure levy (CIL) and neighbourhood plans. Both of these initiatives are considered to have reduced development activity, with the result that one in three LPAs and applicants would now like to abandon these policies completely.

One policy that certainly should not be abandoned however is the national policy planning framework (NPPF). This framework has widely been seen to increase development activity and virtually every LPA and applicant would be happy to see it remain in effect.

In your opinion, how can local authorities improve planning performance?

There are a potential number of different ways that local authorities can achieve an improvement in planning performance. Planning performance agreements (PPAs) should be made more effective so that they provide a clear ‘service delivery agreement’ between the local authority and applicant to provide the certainty around resources, fees and timeframes that is so important to an effective planning system.

Local authorities could also review opportunities for reducing the volume of cases dealt with ‘in-house’ by considering options for outsourcing the large number of small scale applications that should be based on technical merit. This could release officer time to concentrate on the important strategic place-making planning applications that will deliver new housing and other important developments and capital projects.

However, it is not just down to the local authorities. Applicants need to work hard to streamline what they produce as part of the application process.  More collaborative working with the private sector is required when promoting sites for development as this can bring about significant improvements to the overall planning process and help deliver schemes that can be profitable while achieving key aspirations for the local community.

Why is GL Hearn attending the next Sitematch London?

SiteMatch London is an exciting and unique event that brings together the key decision makers from both developers and the public sector.

GL Hearn will be showcasing the MOST mapping tool at the event for local authorities and developers to use the data together to identify future development sites around Greater London.


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