Key Points on Planning Urban Development in the UK

May 25, 2022

For as long as anyone can remember, the goal of urban development was primarily to provide places to live, work and conduct commerce in urban regions. While that is an overly simplistic definition, it is, in effect, exactly what developers looked at when buying up parcels of land within cities to develop for a profit. Obviously, they wanted to realise an ROI high enough to justify investing in urban development, but that was in reality, their primary goal. What could they build to see the kind of profit they were seeking?

In recent years, however, a new approach to real estate development has brought about changes in what is involved in the actual development, and these are now important points real estate developers need to consider prior to buying property. Will new legislation and government initiatives make their intended venture profitable? Also, with the direction in which society is moving, will there really be a need going forward to the type of development they had envisioned? Here is some of what should be considered.

New Legislation: The Environment Act of 2021

This is an amazing bit of legislation in light of a global focus on sustainability and protecting our planet for future generations. However, it is quite involved and there is much to be understood in terms of what needs to happen before planning permissions can be granted. It’s all about biodiversity net gain which is both easy to understand as well as a bit complicated in the finer details.

To sum it up quickly, a biodiversity net gain plan is such that a piece of property, once developed, increased the biodiversity of the land at least 10% above the state in which it was found. Now then, for urban development, that may not be as difficult as it would be in rural areas of the UK because biodiversity was not an issue or even known of when most of our city development took place.

However, that again is overly simplistic, and one thing urban developers would need would be a biodiversity survey conducted by a group such as Arbtech, the UK’s leading ecological and arboricultural consultancy. This is a requirement within the Environment Act and a prerequisite to the biodiversity net gain plan. With locations in three major cities throughout the UK and home-based consultants throughout the entire nation, it is easy to schedule the required survey in a timely manner.

At this point you may be wondering exactly what biodiversity is and why it’s important when planning real estate development of any kind, urban or rural. There is much written on what it is, but a basic understanding can be found here. As you will see, since there are probably no protected species involved and the land in cities has few plants or natural sources of running water, it wouldn’t be difficult to achieve a 10% gain, but that survey is ultimately required, and a biodiversity net gain plan must be established prior to planning permissions.

Industry in the 21st Century: A New Evolution

Another key point on planning urban development going forward in the 21st century and beyond is what can be called a new evolution in industry. Factories are moving outwards, largely to promote better working conditions and fewer obstacles to reducing their carbon footprint. However, that isn’t quite as important to the actual evolution of industry in the 21st century due to the number of companies establishing a home-based workforce.

This has become a new paradigm brought about out of necessity during the global pandemic of Covid-19. With global shutdowns and lockdowns of literally every non-essential business, many companies simply couldn’t survive. Those that could made it possible for employees to work from home wherever possible. The only industries that couldn’t take advantage of home-based workers were those such as manufacturing where everything was produced on site.

Companies are now realising the benefits of downsizing as a means of lowering their operational costs. With fewer employees on site, and fewer resources being utilised, they are realising a significant savings month after month. With fewer employees on the premises, they need smaller spaces and so some companies are relocating as a result.

This has an impact on urban development in that now developers are looking at what this holds for the future. Instead of building large commercial buildings with offices often taking up entire floors, what will actually be needed in terms of real estate? Would housing make more sense or perhaps places for retail or wholesale shopping? There is much to be considered going forward, but the fact remains that today’s companies are most assuredly downsizing.

Housing: A Crisis in the Making

As the population continues to grow, the land mass of the UK will not. As silly as that sounds, that is something to be considered in planning urban development. To this extent, the Environment Act of 2021 becomes all the more important. There is only so much land for farming, which is vital to the survival of every man, woman, and child. Over time you can expect to see fewer plots of land zoned for building homes in rural areas where farmlands will suffer.

Will this lead to a migration back to urban living? Since the mid part of the 20th century the population has been growing outward. This trend will need to cease at some point in the very near future. Not only are UK homebuyers priced out of the market, but fewer homes are available for purchase and planning permissions for new builds might be slow in coming if builders are not compliant with the Environment Act of 2021.

Perhaps the main focus of urban development should be toward building ‘green’ residences that will meet the demands of a growing population as well as the principles of biodiversity. Many of today’s developers around the globe are designing condominiums and apartment buildings in major cities that have trees, grass, and other botanicals in their plans. Is this something the UK could benefit from? It will take a huge amount of data analysis to track the movement of businesses and families, but in the end, this might just be the one solution that answers many needs.


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