Site sourcing,

Finding the right site is all-important for any development – but the process can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Hugh Gibbs, co-founder of SearchLand, says harnessing data and digital technology can give developers a head-start

For seasoned developers and first-time builders alike, the top priority when approaching a new project must be sourcing the right site. Even with the necessary contacts, finances and materials, a project will never be a success without the perfect parcel of land to build on.

There are a great many factors to consider when sizing up a lot and with increasing demand – and the total landmass of the UK unlikely to increase any time soon – finding a great deal is not getting any easier. So, how does one find that perfect site? For many, the usual approach remains surprisingly analogue and time-consuming.

A developer will begin with an area in mind, however narrow or vast that might be. They will then start by exhaustively searching aerial maps for unused space on the edge of settlements or points where a number of private gardens could be reimagined as a new development. Some firms even explore the area themselves, trying to spy an untapped site from the side of the road.

Once a suitable spot has been sighted, the real work begins. The first concerns are those of title ownership and boundaries, and the price that has been paid for them. For these, the developer will typically use Land Registry records and manually pull this information from their archives.

With this data in hand, planning permissions and constraints need to be learned, as well as the average planning approval rates for the surrounding area. This information is normally kept by the local council, which means different procedures and processing speeds across the country, as well as potentially dealing with multiple councils at a time when weighing up multiple, dispersed sites.

Only with this core set of information in hand can a developer, architect or investor make a considered decision on the viability of a site.

Supporting smaller developers

The approach outlined above is highly inefficient. Indeed, when I was working in the planning and development sector myself, I saw first-hand how much time, effort and money developers would pour into keeping their pipeline full of quality sites.

For smaller developers in particular, a disproportionately large portion of their resource went into the site sourcing process – and indeed still does. This must be addressed.

The development industry in the UK is massive – construction output exceeds £110bn per annum, almost 7% of GDP – and owing to the housing crisis, the government places a great deal of emphasis on keeping the rate of construction as high as possible. For SME developers to do their part and stay competitive in a sector filled with giants, they need to be smarter, faster and more strategic than their opposing goliaths.

Despite the (former) housing secretary Robert Jenrick stating last year that “small housebuilders are vital to building the homes this country needs”, their share of the market is slipping. In 1988, four out of every 10 new homes built were developed by small builders – in 2018 that number had dropped to just 12%.

How, then, can we better support smaller developers by giving them a head-start when it comes to sourcing potential sites? In a word: data. It became clear to me during my years in development and planning that we must find ways to extract value from data.

After all, the traditional methods of site sourcing are just a manual, cumbersome form of data gathering and analysis. While some services exist that compile many of the necessary datasets into one platform, these are often so expensive that membership simply is not viable for smaller developers and architectural firms.

Better informed, better equipped

Over the past two decades, the majority of industries have been revolutionised by technology. However, the development sector is still awaiting its own digital transformation.

Importantly, the proliferation of cloud computing, big data and software-as-a-service (SaaS) has granted organisations of all sizes the ability to access, analyse and understand vast datasets. And this trend is now entering the property sector, with exciting opportunities on offer for developers.

By accessing, analysing and visualising multiple vast datasets all the same time, developers are able to operate more strategically, improve efficiency, identify new opportunities and gain a competitive advantage.

Ultimately, the site sourcing process is in need of modernisation. Data must be utilised more intelligently so a developer can filter thousands of prospective sites down into the dozen that meet their particular criteria. The technologies and tools are in place to achieve this, now the developers themselves must embrace change and find a better way of finding the perfect plot for their next project.

 

 

Hugh Gibbs

Co-founder

SearchLand

www.searchland.co.uk

Twitter: searchlandhq

LinkedIn: searchland

Instagram: searchlandhq

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