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UKREiiF Report: Improving Planning and Meeting Sustainability Challenges

UKREiiF Report: Improving Planning and Meeting Sustainability Challenges

We attended the REiiF (The UK Real Estate & Infrastructure Investment Forum) event in Leeds this month, like many for the first time this year to gain some impressions, meet clients and network in what is becoming a major fixture in the land and property investment sector calendar. 

It has certainly grown year on year, attracting 12,000 attendees including developers, lawyers, architects, local authorities, government, suppliers and contractors. In addition to the formal conference sessions, there was a lot of networking of fringe events, including fun runs, spin classes and drinks, which were usually held before and after the conference and over lunch. For those thinking of attending next year, it’s important to check out your target companies to engage with and whether they are hosting their own fringe events as these are  typically advertised outside of the formal proceedings. 

We attended many of the main session proceedings across the three days, which created a new dynamic when the snap General Election was announced during the week. 

There were a number of clear recurring themes across sessions: 

  • The importance of Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) and being social value driven
  • The need for better technology adoption and use of insights-driven digital data platforms
  • Improving synergies between public and private sectors

One particular highlight was the Women In Property Breakfast hosted by developer Citu, which included an inspiring story and tour of its Climate Innovation District. This is the largest urban sustainable development in the UK, turning  a brownfield site into a resilient, green, mixed-use neighbourhood of 516 low energy homes with integrated amenities for everyday life. Working together with White Arkitekter, the properties are being designed to PassivHaus standards to achieve a net zero footprint. 

It was clear from some of the sessions that a wide range of major challenges need to be overcome in order to bring forward accelerated property development to meet housing needs and unlock sites, including brownfield. 

Improve the Planning Process

Local authorities are behind with their development plans, taking typically seven years versus a goal of five. Planning and energy are significant obstacles. For example, Cambridge is a leading investment hub for jobs, development and community growth, but doesn’t have sufficient water supply to meet projected demand, as there are not enough reservoirs built locally to support. 

It was also stressed that Local Authorities need more people who are qualified, including better graduate recruitment, to make decisions, as the planning process is taking too long, incurring extra cost for developers. 

There was a suggestion that they could bring in more private sector expertise to improve case management and accelerate throughput, as well as streamlining the application process for developments under 50 units. 

Remediation and Climate Mitigation Requirements

Developers have to consider planning conditions including contaminated land remediation strategies, together with current and future climate mitigation into project costs, while being asked to support LA urban development targets. 

It is encouraging that The Environment Act is pushing developers to use brownfield sites as a priority. Where a site is undergoing change of use, synch as agricultural to commercial or residential, it must do so with climate resilience in mind. 

Energy efficiency savings are a greater focus for buyers now, driven by the cost of living crisis, but also greater concern about our footprint and climate warming. They appear to be more content to pay a premium for improved energy ratings, based on assumed cost savings achieved over the ownership period. 

There is a massive retrofit challenge but there needs to be greater incentives to drive this, as it is a key element of achieving Net Zero by 2050 as a country. There needs to be a consistency in retrofit standards by developers, supported by clearer mandatory reporting on what has been implemented to meet these standards, rather than an ESG/greenwash box ticking exercise. 

Charging infrastructure as part of our community landscape is also a critical factor. Local Authorities can’t just put charging points outside residential areas on the pavement without consultation. Adequate provision for all residents will need to be built into new developments for allocated parking spaces as standard in the future. 

In all, it was a fascinating set of formal presentations and panel discussions, alongside some more informal networking. It was great to catch up with so many clients and make new contacts and we look forward to seeing what the 2025 event has in store. 



May 30, 2024

Iryna Minimurzina and Magda Wyrwas