Local Government Lawyer Insight December 2018 LocalGovernmentLawyer 32 transactions were cordial and the sun always shone. Well maybe not. The council would usually hold or assemble the land and the selected developer had the skills, occupiers and funding to build out and away you went. We are getting quite a lot of feedback from colleagues in the industry that a stalling factor is simply the number of options available to bring about developments. It has become almost impossible for some authorities to make a decision as to how to proceed due to the agony of choice and option overload. With policy changes, new funding solutions, numerous deal structures, collaboration protocols, political directions, procurement concerns, increasingly numerous consultees and stakeholders – no wonder things grind to a halt. We also see advisers looking to sell pre-packaged solutions rather than analysing the specific problem and coming up with something bespoke and suitable. Whilst I don’t want to hark back to the good old days, this cornucopia of options does highlight the need for proper strategic direction, quality project management, narrowed option selection criteria and good governance. All of this should be a given alongside the review of the commercial terms. Ultimately, form does follow function, so the legal and commercial solutions should always be kept in focus. Assuming all of that is in place then the parties should have more confidence to make decisions and stick to them. This, in turn, should help to unlock the stalled elements of the scheme. Implementation With a supported policy and strategic position comes the ability to actually implement that solution. We are still seeing significant and avoidable delays in projects where there isn’t proper project governance or delivery resource in place. There are lots of reasons for this and I should not over simplify the root causes. There are, however, some common themes. For example, many in-house teams do amazing jobs of managing and delivering large-scale infrastructure and regeneration projects. Where there isn't the in-house resource and it has to be "bought in", we see delays in that procurement process. This often boils down to concerns over the routes to procure advisers and the linked up front costs. For example, a housing development was delayed for over a year whilst individual advisers were appointed, all from different disciplines, all from different call off panels and via protracted mini-competitions. No-one doubts the need to achieve value for money but we cannot have schemes stalling (and income or capital receipts not being collected from a completed scheme) by basic project inception delays. Being commercial about the use of multi disciplinary teams, using pre- procured call off panels, allocating proper project budgets and front loading the project management and governance all help to get from concept to inception much quicker. Once the team was assembled it worked well, but the time taken to do so wasted time and money. What about in-house delays? With the enormous cuts in public funding, council officers are often overstretched, covering more than one job or "acting" up into another role. This has become the norm for many councils and the position in some cases has become untenable. Regeneration projects are large, complex, long term endeavours and can be very time consuming. This means that lead officers either have to have the time to do it or the budget to appoint a proper external adviser team. A lot of time and budget is wasted trying to get by when the officers are not given the space and authority to deliver. Who's in charge here? The final point to mention is the number of agencies involved in delivery. It is great news for our industry that there are now numerous routes to delivery regeneration: Homes England and the combined authorities, local councils, trading, property, investment and development companies set up by councils, public / private corporate and contractual joint ventures and funding, investment and collaborative vehicles. To this heady mix, add the fact that we have increasing layers of local devolved government and you can see where there is room for confusion. Who is responsible for what, what are the available funding routes and who should take control? Now, this last point is actually a positive to end on. We are seeing increasing support for the combined authorities taking more control of planning, procurement, remediation funding, land assembly and spatial strategy. Conclusion As regions look to expand and the public sector continues to play a vital role in housing delivery, employment creation and connectivity, we cannot afford avoidable stalled sites. So what is the answer? Proper funding and resourcing of local government would help. There is also an increasing school of thought as to the roles of the Mayors and the combined authorities. Without treading on the toes of local government could they take more of a role in unlocking stalled development? Could they bring together the mixture of policies? Could they create blanket policies to ensure delivery? Could they create the toolkits to simplify the processes? So long as they work alongside the democratically elected bodies that know the local areas and understand the solutions, maybe this shift could be the one that unlocks stalled sites once and for all. Chris Plumley is a partner at Trowers & Hamlins. He can be contacted on 0121 214 8817 or by email at email@example.com www.trowers.com/people/christopher- plumley/ We are getting quite a lot of feedback from colleagues in the industry that a stalling factor is simply the number of options available to bring about developments. It has become almost impossible for some authorities to make a decision as to how to proceed due to the agony of choice and option overload.