Using Esher Groves as a case study, over a series of four articles, we sketch out some of the important issues and processes you will need to consider if you decide to acquire, develop and trade from your own clinical property.
In the first article of the series we considered some of the issues practitioners could expect to encounter when they acquire a property for development. In the second article of the series we look at planning and preliminary stages of a project.
The Planning System
Your development is likely to require one of more planning consents. This may involve a change of use, consent to extend, refurbish or convert. It may require permissions to develop new buildings out of the ground.
The planning system in the UK can be a contentious space in public life and there are at any one time a plethora of vested interests in each planning application. The system is plan based. From national to local level there are collections of planning documents, which will be relevant to your specific site. The various plans inform the ambitions of national, regional and local authorities for the built environment. Independent interests, such as Heritage England, also play a role in the system.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is a national plan relevant to all planning authorities with a very broad vision, arguably a political vision, of planning in the UK. The ability to convert office space to residential under permitted development rights is an NPPF policy driving current residential development activity in many city centers up and down the country. At the other end of the spectrum, a local authority may produce local area plans for each of its town and rural areas designed to address local concerns and issues.
Importantly any planning application seeking consent needs to put forward a coherent argument showing how the proposed design complies with the various relevant planning documents. In theory, this plan-based approach gives the system a measure of objectivity. Every planning decision, either a consent or refusal, has to be supported by reference to existing national, regional and local plans. Ideally, subjective opinion does not determine planning decisions. However, planning documents are invariably ambiguous, or have the potential for ambiguity, which allows for a degree of interpretation and dispute.
Instructing an architect will be the first port of call when assembling the planning application although there are usually several other professional inputs required. Various supporting surveys and reports will accompany the application including the likes of archeological, heritage, ecological and transport reports. This supporting documentation will assess the impact your design has on the surrounding area and the people already working and living there. They can also have financial and timing implications on your plans. For example, if the ecological survey finds the presence of bats in your property you may be required to preserve their habitat or provide an alternative habitat for them.
Esher Groves planning application was initially refused. Their submission requested a change of use from office to clinical space (D1 Non residential institutions) with a substantial extension at the rear of the property providing circa 750 square feet of clinical consulting rooms with additional ancillary space. Concerns were raised as to the bulk of the new extension, its proximity to the adjacent grade II listed church and neighbours issues relating to the location of bins and pedestrian access. The council’s refusal was challenged by Esher Groves who ultimately achieved consent when the council’s decision was overturned by the planning inspectorate.
The planning process takes time and whilst the process unfolds its important to practice good estate management. This may include ensuring your property is adequately secure whilst it is vacant before work begins. It is very important to have the correct buildings insurance in place. This became self evident to Esher Groves in Easter 2016, after a horrendous storm uprooted a large tree situated in the Church grounds. The tree collided with Esher Groves property causing substantial damage to the roof and side elevation wall.
The insurance company sent out a loss adjustor to assess the damage to the property. Fortunately, given the circumstances, this case was not contentious and insurance monies were made available to completely replace the entire existing roof and repair the damaged wall. That particular storm cloud certainly had a silver lining. However, the owners had another surprise in store. During the roof works, it became apparent there was no firewall separation in the loft void running the length of the terrace. This could have been catastrophic. A fire in one of the properties could have affected all the properties in the terrace. This was quickly rectified and a firewall put in place between Esher Groves and their adjacent neighbor.
There is a lot of creativity at this stage of the project, which in the majority of cases will need to be tempered by budgetary restraints. Its sensible to start working and continuously updating a schedule of costs as the design takes shape. If you decide to raise development or refurbishment finance, lenders will want to see a detailed schedule of works with accompanying schedule of costs.
They will also very likely want to assess the track record of the developer, which in the case of healthcare practitioners isn’t always available. Assembling your professional project team early on is one way of solving this particular problem. Their experience and track record can be leveraged in the funding proposal to reassure the lender and help secure development funding.
In the next article…
In the third article, we look at issues raised by CQC and what to expect when work begins onsite during the construction stage. Construction is the transformation of 2 dimensional ideas into 3 dimensional physical objects and sometimes things get lost in translation!