Countryside Stops Housebuilding ‘Shock’ Will Quality Suffer and Planners Get Sack?

Countryside developments are often award winning and photos appear of them in national design guides so what is going on?

As someone who used t work in Countryside Partnerships (not a happy time) I can tell you what is going on. In order to expand in North of England Countryside bought first one then two north of england/east midland builders. This is the partnership division based in Warrington.

Three key differences:

  1. they often get land free from council’s and regeneration bodies, and sometimes RPs, working in partnership (difficult brownfield sites)
  2. they often work in partnership with buy to let providers and RPs, leading to big up front cash payments and good cash flow
  3. they use timber frame, and architects and urban designers go nowhere near projects, except for coloring projects for design and access statements, schemes are designed by unqualified architectural technicians usually by pencil with 20 years of cramming in as many standard house types they can on sites.

What this resulted in was a very high rate of return on capital advanced with much less cash locked up in unsold lots. Leading investors to say, do this for everything this is the future, sell your old style division (based in Brentwood), well they are not selling the division, they are disposing of assets (land options) and switching models. The business models are are different as Burtons (the past) and Primark (the future) – the latter just in time, high turnover, high profit, cheap and nasty construction.

The real issue is will on the sites Countryside owns and buys in the South of England will we get the same kind of tat you get in the North.

This will mean large scale redundancies in Countryside south of England Planners, they are selling these sites.

If you don’t believe me compare and contrast:


Housing Today

Company will sell off sites that don’t fit new partnerships housing model

Countryside has announced it is winding down its direct housebuilding arm to focus on place making and regeneration through its partnerships business.

The Essex-based housebuilder told the stock market it has decided to focus all of its resources on its partnerships business, which works with housing associations, public bodies and institutional private rental operators to deliver mixed-tenure regeneration schemes.

Land and developments that do not fit the partnerships strategy, and are not subject to existing commitments, will be sold off.

This means that the housebuilding business, which in the six months to March generated revenue of £265m, will be wound down.

“No additional capital will be deployed in the building of new developments that do not fit the partnerships model”, the company said.

The firm said a new partnerships region will be set up in the home counties utilising suitable sites from the housebuilding business, which will be led by Philip Chapman, the current MD of the firm’s Housebuilding West division. Any sites not suitable for the partnerships model will either be built out or sold.

Countryside said this move will generate £450m of surplus cash by September 2023, which will be returned to shareholders.

The move follows a campaign by activist shareholder Browning West to sell the housebuilding business. This was followed by David Howell’s decision to stand down as chair alongside the announcement of a strategic review of options for the housebuilding arm. John Martin was appointed chairman in April.

The company has not said specifically why it has moved away from selling the housebuilding business in favour of winding it down instead. 

However, John Martin, chairman of Countryside, said: ”The strategy will significantly accelerate the development of our Partnerships business, which will be even stronger as a result. The value of the additional recurring earnings that this will generate, along with the £450m proceeds from the disposal of surplus assets, clearly significantly exceeds the value of any of the other strategic options available.”

The housebuilding business had a higher profit margin than the partnerships business last year, at 14.8% compared with 11.6% (see table below). However the partnerships arm had a much higher return on capital employed, at 13% compared with 4.9%. Return on capital employed is calculated by dividing pre-tax profit by employed capital and is a measure of how efficiently capital is being used.

Bedford is first Arc Authority to Tackle Growth till 2040 Options, and (almost) does it properly

Bedford is the first of the Arc authorities to bring forward consultation on options till 2040.

One of the reason it has had to do so promptly, one year after its 2030 plan was adopted, was that it lost a whole new settlement (5,000 dwellings at Sharnbrook), and as a result of the shortfall was required to do an early review.

Unlike the vast majority of reg. 18 consultations it is not an useless aspatial document. It dies have clear spatial options and broadly indicates areas for growth such as along Marston Vale, to the South East and South West of Bedford and around the likely location of a new East-West Rail Station South of St Neots.

However the document says nothing about the potential advantages and disadvantages of each area and why some areas were chosen and others not. What are the problems for example with West of Bedford and North of Bedford. The Arc gets a mention only in the introduction, Marston Vale only gets a mention as Green Infrastructure, and nothing is said about the fact that half the growth in Marston Vale will be in Central Beds. The potential expansion of Milton Keynes is not mentioned and neither is the need to coordinate growth around East West Rail on the Eastern border. The duty to cooperate is not mentioned at all. Not mentioned at all is the potential for a busway or rail restoration along the former Northampton-Bedford line as a catalyst for growth.

A second major failing is one of imagination. Given the scale of growth there is the potential to creating mazing new places, including a unique opportunity in the Forest of Marston Vale to create a new city on largely brownfield former brickworks sites with new waterways and forests. Admittedly the impact of East West Rail means serious planning can only start once the route is finally known but that is nearing completion.

What this illustrates is the desperate need for an overarching Arc framework. Individual authorities in the area are in a shell game afraid to out forward serious garden community proposals for fear of housing numbers being racked up on them. This prisoners dilemma can only be solved with strategic planning.