Andy Leahy, BSc MIOD, is the managing director of development consultancy Bespoke Property Consultants. Andy has previously worked at Wimpey, Admiral Homes, Raine Industries and Ballymore Properties as its development director.
As well as co-authoring the HCA Economic Assessment Tool (EAT), which is one of a number of tools that is now required in bidding for grant and planning applications, he is an adviser to the Homes and Communities Agency, registered social landlords and local authorities on the use of the EAT.
Andy will be sharing his expert development advice and experiences as a panellist at our 2017 Residential Development & Site Finding Conference on 16 May at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London. We spoke with him to discuss residential investment, policy, housebuilding and his outlook for the year ahead.
What matters in the residential land markets today?
“In the planning sector, whether you’re an investor or a developer, it works in a world where everyone wants to know the route to an answer. There is a general sense of dismay at the lack of clarity around National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) rules, so this should be a priority.”
The latest housing white paper received mixed reviews. What is your opinion on the consultation?
“The housing white paper sent a very clear message from government that they are now stopping the continuation of trials and new initiatives all the time. The white paper is a consultation on planning and development, so they have basically said ‘You tell us what to do, we’ve run out of ideas,’ which opens the door to put forward new policies that work.”
What are the most viable residential opportunities at the moment for developers and investors?
“The build to rent market is gaining a foothold, but investors must differentiate the build for sale market from build for rent, which offers very different products.
“We’re seeing an emergence of investor target marketplace and hybrid investors that are plugging the gaps. For example, Legal & General are involved in modular off-site construction, whereas M&G are buying sites and having units built for them. Small investors are getting involved by buying from specific developers, and properties are being tailored for housing associations and local authorities.”
So will that hybrid style of construction become the future of housebuilding?
“It will become a major part. The market is currently reliant on 30% of sales from buy to let, but this will wane and the investors market will take over.
“The government should be encouraging buy to let landlords to invest elsewhere through changes to structured taxation and stamp duty, which are changing. I believe that first-time buyers will become a smaller element of the market as there will be a lot more people living in the rented market as a result of build to rent.”
You co-authored the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) Economic Assessment Tool in 2009. The paper discussed the importance of co-ordinated investment and housing partnerships between local planning authorities and the private sector. Are you satisfied that this collaborative approach has been adopted today?
“It hasn’t been fully adopted, but we’re moving in that direction. Local authorities are dealing a lot more with local developers, for example. Ashford Borough Council is bringing forward sites for build to rent development, and we have worked with Epsom and Ewell Borough Council, which is delivering 26 units as part of a joint venture with a housing authority. It’s a small number, but it’s a good sign of things to come.”
How has networking benefitted your property business? Have you forged business partnerships as a result of an LD property conference?
“Yes, some of our clients have come from your events. Networking conferences are our window to the world. We don’t advertise ourselves as a business and rely on word of mouth, so networking with people is crucial. We have made long-lasting relationships from LD conferences, so we’re looking forward to the next event.”
What is your outlook for the year ahead?
“In the UK, all eyes will be on Brexit and the particular effect on banks and their ability to lend. Asian markets will see the UK as an opportune investment market, and we’re already seeing heavy investment from Asian markets like Singapore. Opportunities will largely be created from overseas markets.
“It’s a time for the brave.”
Andy will be joining prominent experts, investors and operators from across the UK for the 2017 Resi Development & Site Finding Conference to discuss the next sets of opportunity areas during uncertain times.
Places are now limited and we expect the event to sell out shortly. To see who attends please click here.