However Badly We Need Land for Development, Unlocking it Still isn’t Easy
That we need more land released for development is beyond dispute. The MoD and Network Rail are taking the lead by releasing land suitable for nearly 30,000 new homes. Welcome as this is, it’s a fraction of the development land needed. There are countless further sites around the country, in areas where there is demand, but where planning or practical issues prevent progress being made.
Infrastructure is often a key concern when it comes to unlocking land for development. It will surely be a challenge for some of the MoD and Network Rail sites. I don’t imagine that all 12,000 hectares of MoD land earmarked for development will have the required transport infrastructure already in place. Development of the 200 plus sites identified by Network Rail seems certain to create conflicts with the smooth operation of the rail network.
Land that is otherwise ripe for development often lacks the infrastructure to allow people and goods to move in and out efficiently. Surrounding roads and transport services may already be under stress without the addition of new residents and businesses.
Unlocking Development Land
Sometimes, existing infrastructure such as rail lines leave potential sites cut off. The difficulties of routing new roads and cycle routes across tracks or highways is seen as too difficult when there are sites available that are easier to develop.
Arguably, the easy to develop brownfield sites are becoming scarcer. And greenbelt developments are always controversial. So we will clearly have to look closely at land with development potential that is currently ‘locked.’
Fortunately, infrastructure issues associated with unlocking development land are rarely insurmountable. Essentially you need five elements:
- Early engagement with contractors who understand the complications and pressures of working alongside or over major infrastructure routes.
- Rigorous design, testing and project management.
- Excellent and committed community engagement.
- A focus on the whole life of the asset.
Osborne’s bold solution to the Leigh Road Bridge in Slough involved the biggest bridge launch by a wheeled vehicle ever attempted in the UK. Yet the 90m, 10,000 tonne bridge structure was installed comfortably within the five hour overnight closure of the Paddington main line. Careful 3D modelling, building a scale model and a full test launch left little to chance.
The innovative U section design allowed finishing works to be contained internally while the weathering steel exterior ensures there is no need to paint or treat the outside during the life of the asset. Following the installation of the new bridge, SEGRO is able to increase revenue from its property assets and deliver sustainable economic growth for the area.
The Human Element
Alongside technical challenges, there are also human ones. People rarely welcome having a large new development imposed on them. But communities can be kept on board when they can see that their issues are actively considered and mitigated wherever possible.
Contractors must make social value a priority. And those that have demonstrated that they consistently leave a positive project legacy will ensure that everyone benefits and sees some positives in any proposed developments
For example, with the Apsley Bridge project in Hemel Hempstead close community engagement has been critical at every stage. The impact on residents was mitigated by maximising the use of offsite construction and selecting piling rigs that minimised vibration. In collaboration with Two Waters Primary School, Bovis Homes, and Dacorum Borough Council a new outdoor play area was also created as part of the project legacy.
Working with customers to find innovative ways to unlock land for development has become an increasingly important part of our business.
Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) enables us to work closely with all stakeholders including main contractors Local Authorities, Network Rail or Highways Authorities. This allows full collaborative partnerships to develop, which design projects for the best outcome and value.