Wivelsfield Green Red Line

Case study: Land at South Road, Wivelsfield Green, East Sussex

Background to the deal

This deal came at a time when there was a lot of pressure on local authorities to prove they had a five-year housing land supply. Most of them – in this case it was Lewes District Council – couldn’t do that.

At that time there was a new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the golden thread running through it was a presumption in favour of development rather than a presumption in favour of not developing.

If a local authority did not have a five-year housing land supply then the view was all bets were off – any piece of land abutting a settlement boundary would be approved.

Unlike the period prior to that and now, there was no process to go through. Any ten, two or even one acre site next to existing houses wouldn’t be promoted first – the builders would simply pressure the local authority into a decision, using the absence of the five-year housing land supply as leverage. Local authorities knew if they refused it, it would go to appeal and almost certainly lose.

So, it was a good time to get quick consent.

The loudest voices at the time were the NIMBYs (Not in my back yard) who objected to most proposals, stating housebuilders were only interested in profits and were ruining the environment. No one was shouting back in defence.

Developers and housebuilders gathered themselves and started the Land, Planning and Development Federation. They went collectively into battle against local authorities rather than fight each issue individually. They looked at planning decisions from all across the country and the precedents set, to gather robust evidence to present to local authorities and the Secretary of State.

So, at that time, Searls was looking for land that had nothing already developed on it.

The site of interest

In 2014, Adam Galbraith, Senior Land Manager, identified land in Wivelsfield Green as a potential opportunity through a Lewes District Council Strategic Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (SHELAA) search.

Dan Acutt, Director of Operations, approached national developers Wates to consider the site, who in turn confirmed it had potential. Dan then contacted the landowners to ask if they had any plans for it.

But it appeared the approach was too late - they were due to accept an offer from housebuilder Countryside Properties under the terms of an option agreement.

We presented the landowner with a better proposal

Following our approach, the landowner’s solicitor contacted Tim Searl to understand the conversation we’d had with his clients. We explained the interest from Wates and our proposal was viewed as a positive way forward.

Tim vouched for the merits of Wates – sitting down with the landowner multiple times to explain why they were a good fit – and eventually, after receiving written offers from Wates, a seven-year promotion agreement was signed.

Ultimately Wates’ proposal was more valuable to the landowners than the one on the table but it was the perseverance and negotiation from the Searls Land team that convinced the sceptical landowner the new offer was the best way forward.

Planning refused but eventually the decision is overturned

In 2015, Wates submitted a scheme into planning for 55 units on the site. It was turned down because Lewes District Council had its five-year housing land supply. There was no appeal.

Nothing then happened until 2021 when Wates resubmitted a scheme, this time for 45 units. Planners refused again but Wates did appeal this time and the refusal was overturned.

With planning permission granted, Wates wanted to sell the site. Adam took it out to market, with Elivia Homes emerging as favourite. Searls worked with Wates to help reassure them of the benefits of selling to Elivia. The post-Covid market was flat and it was tricky finding buyers willing to offer the desired amount.

Searls Land again points the best way forward

We knew Elivia was keen to move forward, so after protracted negotiations, we took the bid to Wates, who were won over and the deal was done.

In 2023, Elivia Homes exchanged and completed on site and, earlier this year, Adam Galbraith agreed heads of terms on the affordable housing element of the scheme.

Specifications

Transaction – Site acquired under the terms of a promotion agreement.

Client – Wates Developments.

Planning status – None

Land parcel – 7.45 acres including open space

Details – Once planning permission for 45 houses had been obtained, we arranged the forward sale of the land to Elivia Homes.