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My name is Mark Benham,  I’m head of Real Estate at Lester Aldridge.  I advise regional and national housebuilders (and the occasional landowner) on land promotion, acquisition and development, including advising providers of later living housing and housing with care.  Outside of work, my passion is music – whether it’s watching a new live act at a small local venue, enjoying music new and old on BBC 6 Music or compiling a playlist on Spotify to share with friends and colleagues.

There is a clear synergy between community assets, including live music venues, and the creation of new housing.  In July 2023, Joanna Averley, chief planner at The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, reminded the planning authorities that they “have an important role in identifying and protecting local grassroots music venues in their area from the effects of new development”, referring them to the requirements in the NPPF regarding the provision of suitable mitigation measures.  She also flagged how the Music Venue Trust (which describes itself as being like the National Trust of music venues) can offer support to planning authorities when consulting on applications.

Independent music venues are the lifeblood of the music industry here in the UK, breathing life into our towns and cities as part of the “night-time economy”.  Sadly, 2023 was the UK’s worst year for music venue closures, according to the Music Venue Trust, with 125 grassroots music venues closing over 12 months.  Without Government support, the sad reality is that the number of venues will continue to shrink.

Our next guest is the Godfather of the retirement housing industry, Gary Day.

 

Gary Day Good farther of the retirement house industry      Gary Day

Gary heads up the land, planning and design functions at Churchill Retirement PLC.  A town planner by trade, Gary started his career in local government and spent 32 years at the UK’s largest retirement housebuilder McCarthy Stone, with most of that time as land and planning director.  Very few people have done as much as Gary has to champion the benefits of specialist later living accommodation.

Mark: What is your favourite venue for live music?

Gary: Any football stadium….or the Bournemouth International Centre (simply from a convenience perspective – hometown!)

Mark: If you could require one landowner in the UK to do more to facilitate housing growth in the UK, which landowner would it be?

Gary: Government, both central and local because Government could and should do more in releasing underutilised/vacant public land, and insofar as its planning responsibilities are concerned it should undertake a proper/radical review of the UK planning system (not the current tinkering around the edges!), including a review of Green Belt policy. Moreover, it should create a planning environment which more proactively encourages and facilitates new housing development – not just development on its own land.

Mark: What was the first, and most recent, music gig/concert that you attended?

Gary: Showing my age now! My first concert was Slade, at the Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre, with Thin Lizzy and Suzi Quatro as the two support bands. It was brilliant! My last gig was Kyron Baptiste, reggae artist, on the Caribbean island of Bequia – equally brilliant, although the setting and climate made a big contribution! – and my last concert was The Wailers, (the reggae band formed by the former members of Bob Marley and the Wailers after his death in 1981), at the O2 Academy in Bournemouth. You can see where one of my main music preferences lies! Prior to that, (last year), Simply Red in Dublin.

Mark: You are appointed the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for one week.  You are given the power to make immediate legislative changes in order to ensure more houses are built.  What is the first change you would make?

Gary: A rigorous review of Green Belt policy, including its original intended purpose and role, (i.e., is it still fit for purpose?), its boundaries around existing urban areas, and the development control policies applicable to land within designated Green Belts. In addition to this, I would urgently adopt a planning policy presumption in favour of new specialist housing for older people, including full exemptions from affordable housing obligations and CIL, in recognition of the critical housing needs of our ageing population and the wide ranging social and economic benefits that flow from providing more and better housing options for older people.

Mark: What band or artist is your dream headline act, who would be the support act and where would the gig be?

Gary: David Bowie with Kate Bush as the support act….and it would have to be at the Theatre of Dreams in Manchester!

Mark: Week two as Secretary of State and the PM tells you to implement an unconventional housing policy inspired by a successful policy or project from another jurisdiction.  What policy would you adopt?

Gary: I would abolish CIL and S106 and re-adopt a simplified version of the 1970s Development Land Tax, thereby creating a level playing field for the provision of/contribution towards necessary development infrastructure and other public facilities and services, while ensuring that the rate of taxation is not set at a level that will choke the release of land……and with specialist housing for older people being exempted for the reasons I have already given.

Mark: If you could sum up the state of housebuilding in the UK by reference to a song, what song would it be?

Gary: “Help!” by the Beatles.

Mark: What housing scheme or project that you have been involved in are you the proudest of?

Gary: I have been involved in the delivery of so many retirement housing developments (over the past 35 years!) that it’s hard for me to think of any one scheme. They have all been highly successful in terms of meeting the needs and aspirations of those that have moved into the developments, with resultant consistent high levels of customer satisfaction.

That said, from a planning perspective, I think one of my most satisfactory achievements was the grant of a first-time planning consent for the redevelopment of the Royal Hotel on the seafront in Teignmouth – a McCarthy & Stone scheme. The hotel wasn’t Listed but it was in a Conservation Area and had an (alleged, by locals!) history of famous patrons including royalty, celebrities, “and even the Beatles in the 1960s.”

Our ownership of the site gave rise to a 5,500+ signature petition from local residents against the redevelopment of the hotel, plus we faced an existing, (albeit out of date) development plan policy protecting the loss of the hotel, (in addition to the statutory conservation tests of preservation or enhancement), resulting in my then CEO and Chairman, John McCarthy (the founder of McCarthy and Stone), being adamant that we would not get planning consent without recourse to an appeal. However, following representations made against the emerging Local Plan Review and evidence presented, personally, at two Local Plan inquiries, we managed to eventually change the wording of the relevant policies and thus, to gain planning consent in accordance with the newly adopted development plan – much to the reluctance of the planning committee and grave displeasure of local residents.

While I was naturally delighted with the decision for the company, given it was such a fantastic site, and for me personally, given the challenge presented by John, when I told him about the good news on leaving the planning committee meeting that day, John remind me that “it’s only taken you ******** 8 years to achieve it!” It’s a great scheme, and still looks fabulous today.

Many thanks to Gary for joining us. Our next episode will be landing next month – sign up to be notified when episodes are published here.

If you need further advice about any of your real estate requirements, please contact Mark via email at mark.benham@la-law.com