Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by Capital and Provident Regeneration (HIS 18)


  1.1  This written evidence is submitted on behalf of Capital & Provident Regeneration Ltd.

  1.2  We are a property development company specialising in regeneration in the inner city, particularly London. Our approach is to work in a highly collaborative way with local public agencies. Our aim is to work on their agendas, using outstanding architects to achieve results.

  1.3  Because, much of the public sectors property holdings date from a time when local authorities had more powers, we have found ourselves working on a number of historic or listed buildings. Consequently we have direct experience of regeneration agencies, conservation officers and English Heritage.

  1.4  Our proposals are:

    —  Local authorities should be encouraged to carry out disposals in a more managed and structured way if they are to achieve real regeneration outcomes through the use of their historic buildings.

    —  Local conservation officers should be accountable to English Heritage.

    —  There should be a mechanism for reviewing use classes of both buildings and areas, which is outside the planning system.

    —  VAT should not be charged on refurbishment.

    —  In return for an open book agreement on behalf of the developer, there should be a process a collaborative working for regeneration schemes.


  2.1  Capital and Provident Regeneration is a property development company specialising in working in the inner city in partnership with the public sector on regeneration schemes. It is part of a larger property group, Capital and Provident. Capital and Provident has been in existence as a development and investment Company for around 35 years; and Capital and Provident Regeneration was created on the 1st January 2000 to specialise in mix use schemes with the public sector. Sylvie Pierce who was Chief Executives of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was recruited to run the new company.

  2.2  Capital and Provident Regeneration has purchased a number of buildings, which are either listed, or of interest to English Heritage. The very first scheme, in Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, London, was the conversion and re-development of a listed grade 2 Victorian School into a community gym, a training restaurant, starter business units and residential units. The scheme will be completed in February 2004, English Heritage have taken an enthusiastic interest and commended the scheme as an excellent example of regeneration involving the transformation of a neglected listed building into facilities that have real benefit to the local community. This building would have been ripe for conversion to private apartments, but through a partnership between Capital & Provident Regeneration and the local New Deal Trust, the building has been redeveloped to a development brief lead primarily by the New Deal Trust.

  2.3  The company is also working on the conversion of a Victorian school to 69 residential units, including 19 key worker, a 2-storey GP's surgery, with 2-storeys of complimentary medicine facilities above which are to be managed by Shoreditch New Deal Trust. The building has been given the name Shoreditch Spa! In addition we are working on the conversion of the Annie McCall Hospital in Stockwell into artist studios, a new public park, community building and housing. The company has also formed a joint venture with the William Pears Group to bid for NHS Lift schemes. We are now the preferred partner for two London Lifts.

  One is in Lambeth, Lewisham Southwark and the other is in Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hounslow. This is being done under a new company banner, Building Better Health.

  2.4  It is this experience of working on a range of historic buildings, and being involved in regeneration partnerships of various kinds, that has led us to submit evidence to this select committee.

  2.5  In addition to its success in working with English Heritage on a range of schemes, the company was recently voted client number 28 in the RIBA's list of top clients. The company has a strong set of values which includes a commitment to bringing beautifully designed buildings to economically difficult areas, working with outstanding architects, and aligning self with public sector values.

  2.6  So far Capital and Provident Regeneration has worked with the following architects: Penoyre & Prasad, Buschow Henley, The Richard Rogers Partnership, Stock Woolstencroft, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris and Levitt Bernstein.

  2.7  We are also currently working on a grade 2 star listed Church for St. Johns in Hackney. We are currently at the master planning stage of the project. The aim will be to re-develop the surrounding area owned by the Church and the Diocese of London to the benefit of the Church. This should enable it to do the much needed work on their grade 2 star listed Georgian Church.


  3.1  Clearly Historic buildings, particularly Victorian and Edwardian buildings, make very attractive regeneration opportunities. Much of the stock is public sector control, not least because it was built as town halls, schools, warehousing, libraries and churches. Despite their age, they are usually well built, with high ceilings, intricate detailing and generous floor plans. They are also often much loved locally, because they are remembered as they use to be, where local people went to school, or the town hall where members of the family were married. Residential developers often see them as highly desirable potential living spaces. By contrast, locally people tend to want to see them used in some way that keeps them accessible to local residents.

  2.2  Industrial buildings on the other hand are usually in industrial areas and are defined in the local UDP as within employment zones. No longer easily accessible for modern transport systems, with large floor plates which are difficult to convert, and lacking the ducting that modern technology requires, they are unattractive as development opportunities for their current defined uses. There are areas in London where very beautiful buildings are falling into decline because of the local authority's conviction that these areas and their buildings should be preserved for employment.

  2.3  Ironically, there's a tendency for the local authority owners of these Victorian and Edwardian public buildings, such as old town halls and libraries, to try to find new uses for them without spending money on them, so they end up being filled with community groups and voluntary sector organisations. Unfortunately, whilst things of beauty, they are also expensive to heat and maintain, and don't lend themselves easily to being used by organisations who are often on shoe string budgets.

  2.4  The dilemma can be: to sell them and see them converted into private apartments, or hold on them and scratch around for users, but which at least has the merit of complying with existing Use Classes.


  3.1  There are a large number of Victorian and Edwardian buildings in London and our major cities (our experience is limited to London and therefore we submit our evidence based on that particular context.) Those buildings, which are "listed, are offered protection, through English Heritage and local conservation officers. Buildings, which are not listed, but maybe of great local interest and have their own very particular beauty, are subject to the vagaries of property developers and planners. This can lead to mezzanines being put in appropriately, the building fabric being handled insensitively, additions being added which do not enhance the building, and the shape of the building internally being hacked around which pays no regard to the historic concept or the integrity of the building.

  3.2  There is general worry in the development industry about taking on listed buildings, because of the perception that there will be excessive bureaucracy attached to that listing.

  3.3  This has not been our experience at Capital and Provident Regeneration. However there are other difficulties. English Heritage has always been very supportive and helpful and welcomes the addition of modern architecture alongside the preservation of historic buildings. In our experience this is not always the position of the local authority conservation officer. This is best illustrated by our experience in a London Borough. We proposed that a grade 2 listed building be re-furbished and new additions be added on both the ground floor and the roof. Architects, Buschow Henley, who are RIBA award winners, proposed very interesting additions to the building, designed to reflect the balance of the current elevations. English Heritage were consulted very early and were extremely helpful—visiting the site and advising on elements of the building which were of particular significance. Having followed English Heritage's advice, we assumed that the proposed scheme design would be supported by the local conservation officer. This turned out not to be true. Essentially it does not matter what English Heritage thinks, if you have a conservation officer who happens to subscribe to a view of conservation, which believes that the word "heritage" is code for no change, then there is nothing you can do, except appeal.

  3.4  This means that whilst historic buildings can play a vital role in regeneration, you cannot assume that the route to a finished development will be easy. Historic buildings have many assets. They are often very sound structurally. They have stood up all ready for a long time, and with a bit of care and attention can quite easily be brought back into use. They are also often much loved in the local community because people have been to school there or known them as a local library or the local town hall. They consequently have a lot going from them. In addition they usually have high ceilings and they provide very interesting living space. However the development industry is wary of them because of the perceived problems with local planners. This is particularly true if the building is listed.

  3.5  We have commented above on the role of English Heritage and local authority conservation officers. In summary, in our experience, English Heritage has a much more enlightened view then local authority conservation officers. Of course this is the sweeping generalisation, but our experience has been that working with English Heritage has been a much more positive experience than working with local authority conservation officers.

  3.6  There seems to be a view in English Heritage that it is the integrity of the building that counts and that bringing it back into use is the focus of design discussions. Consequently the possibility of extending the building with some exciting modern architecture is, for example, seen as a perfectly valid way of both preserving and regenerating an historic building.

  3.7  Local authority conservation officers on the other hand tend to want to preserve historic buildings. In addition they are very obsessed often with what can be important but not over riding concerns. They particularly focus on building line window size and roof line, rather than the overall design.

  3.8  We have certainly have had the experience of a lot of support, including letters of support from English Heritage, simply being ignored by the conservation officers and the planning officers.

  3.9  There is an urgent need for planning officers to have a more sophisticated view of design then they currently have. This is true for all planning officers not just conservation officers. Their reliance on a formulaic response around window size and street line does not encourage good design. They also do not work with developers and architects to produce a solution that relates to both sensible end uses as well as to the local environment.

  3.10  This is not to say that we do not need regulation, but we need regulation that is proactive, that is design focused, and that understands the commercial constraints of developers and helps them to produce better solutions and designs then they would otherwise do.

  3.11  There are a lot of developers who do not care about design but there are many now who are trying to understand the impact of their developments on the local environment. There is very little help from local planners in achieving an end result, which may make major contributions to the local community.

  3.12  For example we have carried out regeneration schemes with the support of the local New Deal Trust and English Heritage in an area of East London where we have waited a year for a planning consent. In addition the conservation officer has refused to meet with or take on board the concerns of English Heritage. This has meant that a scheme, which had major benefits for the local community has been delayed and compromised. Since no reasons are ever really given you are simply left with the feeling that no matter how hard you try to work with the grain of local buildings in the local community it is very difficult to satisfy the planners.

  3.13  If we look around we don't see any evidence that this approach brings successful modern buildings or excellence in the restoration of historic buildings.


  4.1  It is our experience that regeneration organisations are often very interested in historic buildings because they will have a number on their patch. Every local authority has old town hall libraries and schools that historically they have not known what to do with. Often these then converted, on the cheap, to provide community facilities. They are often unsuited to this use and so you end up with a poorly converted historic building, which is draughty and cold, and where the plumbing fails to work very well.

  4.2  Regeneration agencies are often interested in focusing on these buildings to provide better facilities. In a curious way they have been better at dealing with them than many local authorities.

  4.3  In the current financial climate local authorities are now disposing of these buildings. This brings additional and new problems. First of all the method of disposal is often by public sale for the highest some of money. They then rely on the planning system to ensure that the building is converted for a use that the planners will find acceptable and with adequate attention to design.

  4.4  We believe that local authorities and public agencies are often missing a major opportunity which is to retain far more control over the buildings and to ensure that they are developed in a way which really meets their requirements both in terms of use and design. We believe that we have been developing a new way of working with public authorities, which is much more focused on partnership. I would commend the approach of the London Borough of Lambeth where they have tendered a very beautiful historic building on the basis of finding a private sector partner that they can work with. They are then having a structured sale of the land. The sale only takes place once the scheme has worked up a design that meets everybody's requirements and has a planning consent. Since listed and historic buildings often require a change of use, it means that the risk to the developer is reduced and the land value increased, allowing that increased value to be reflected in the scheme.

  4.5.We think this much more partnering approach to disposal is a far more interesting one and if historic buildings are really going to be used to provide asset facilities and housing locally then we would commend this approach.

  4.6. We would also urge that consideration be given to allowing a more collaborative approach between local authority and developer where the local authority believes that the proposed scheme will bring real benefits to the local community, and is part of their regeneration proposals for the area.

  4.7. This should include regular meetings with the local authority, to include all the key players to a scheme, such as the Housing Department, Regeneration departments and any local regeneration agencies. In return, the developer should be prepared to work on a completely open book basis, with profits agreed in advance, and an overage agreement for any additional return.


  5.1  The planning system and the listing system need to be distinguished in considering urban regeneration.

  5.2  Please see out comments above on the planning system. In the main this is antiquated, unhelpful, unfocused on the key requirements locally, uninterested in design, bureaucratic, slow and with very occasional exceptions. It is a rare day that a developer finds a planning officer that wants to work with them to help them to achieve an outcome which is a well-designed building providing facilities that are needed locally.

  5.3  Planners have, in the main, become bureaucratic; they are not achieving successful and well-designed developments.

  5.4  In the main the listing system works well. It works best where English Heritage are most involved. There is an unhelpful split between English Heritage and the conservation officers. We think there is strong evidence that the conservation officer should be accountable to English Heritage and not to the local authority.

  5.5  As we have already pointed out the problem with the listing system is that it seems to have a scattergun approach. Buildings are listed for reasons that are not apparent to anybody locally. You can get the same buildings almost identical in an area one of which is listed and get the full protection of English Heritage or conservation and another, which is not and can be demolished or very insensitively converted.

  5.6  We wondered whether there is a case for a category, which some how recognises the buildings in importance locally and that there should be a process of being able to look at use classes in advance of a developer having spend a great deal of money. Historic buildings nearly always come with predetermined uses whether that is libraries, schools, town halls or factories. They therefore present a risk to a developer because as well as having to design a scheme they are also having to go through a change of use. Many planning authorities do not do pre-application meetings and the developers are left to shoulder all the risk.

  5.7  This lends us to believe that there is a case for a mechanism for the planning authority or perhaps a regeneration department being able to make a case with a developer or perhaps on their own for a review of use classes in advance of the area being developed.

  5.8  The more the designs for the conversion of a historic building are worked on collaboratively, the better the result. In other words, if buildings are to be used as part of the regeneration of an area, it takes more than a straight sale to achieve the desired outcome.

  5.9  A process, whereby, land sales are managed and structured by either the local authority, or a regeneration agency, and the land only transferred to the developer, once a full planning consent is in place, would we believe achieve more successful regeneration schemes.

  5.10  We also think that there is a strong argument, for an agency, and not the developer, to make a case for a change of use across as area. This should be particular true, where, for example, an old industrial area is zoned for employment. At the moment, changes of use, where resisted by the local authority, are dealt with through the appeals process on an individual application basis. We don't think this makes for effective planning of an area, and the money spent on appeals is money taken away from the regeneration of the area.


  6.1  Our experience with government departments is limited, and limited to the ODPM and the DFES. There are many excellent civil servants, but from a private sector perspective, a strong culture of "back covering" over concerns about outcomes seems to prevail.


  7.1  The change in stamp duty regime is a welcome recognition of the cost of development in some inner city areas. It remains a strange anomaly that new build is not subject to VAT, whilst refurbishment and conversion is.

  7.2. Elsewhere in this evidence we have indicated areas that we believe it would be beneficial for the government to explore further if historic buildings are to be fully utilised in regenerating our communities.

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