Is the planning system torturous in the eyes of a modular developer?
Lesko Modular Group talks about its journey through the planning system as it looks to explore land acquisition and developments using offsite solutions
The journey began in August 2017, when Lesko Modular Group was founded and privately invested in by the Pleszko family, who brought extensive knowledge and experience in offsite solutions. Their manufacturing and modular expertise spanning over 70 years.
James Pleszko, CEO, says: “I grew up admiring my father as he made a huge success of his family business and knew I would work with him someday. Growing the team at Lesko Modular has been one of my biggest successes thus far as CEO. I am so proud of what we have achieved in under two years. The journey forward excites me beyond belief.
“We originally set up to be a manufacturer on behalf of partners, to build and supply their products to market. We quickly learned the frustrations in this model. As we sat awaiting their sales funnel to fill, we also had first-hand knowledge of how the time constraints on planning could directly impact our factory and productivity.”
During this time, Lesko looked at working with land acquisition partners and development consultants to source viable opportunities to develop projects itself or with local developers as a joint venture. Lesko Developments was then born very organically from this.
The first opportunity for acquisition arrived in November/December 2018. Planning was submitted in December in the North West for a scheme of 27 homes with delivery for 2020, which fit perfectly with the company’s goal to build 2,021 modules by 2021. Significant investment was made by Lesko in securing options and the designing of the scheme.
Planning was rejected due to “requirement for additional information” – Lesko was later to realise the information was in fact available and the additional info could have been obtained sooner. It was, in fact, a deadline that was wrongly set that delayed this opportunity for Lesko Developments.
Lesko’s planning consultant says: “A planning case officer is very important in the journey and all efforts should be made to secure good relations with the local officers as to make for a more open and seamless journey. Today’s world is very different, there are so many other required reports/investigations that need to be undertaken before the officer can validate the planning application. It is now most common to submit an acoustic/ground investigation/ecology/transport/drainage and potentially more to even get the application validated.”
The journey continues
While experts within councils can easily ask for additional information, it becomes timely, costly and inherently delays the journey.
Quite often, time deadlines are not realistic, so the pressure on the developer and budget can be quite intense, the consultant added.
To date, they have had no previous modular schemes in the city – so the scrutiny of the materials, proposals and design of the layout became apparent as time went on.
Solutions for modular and planning?
There is still uncertainty due to planning officers having to understand the solutions that offsite can bring, along with the accreditations, manufacture build guarantees and naturally the mortgages that will support offsite.
Due to the fact that inconsistencies exist on local and national planning policy, this can be really frustrating as there are too many variables for developers to jump hoops through. More refined, clearer standards and perhaps pre-approved designs through offsite standardisation could help to simplify the planning process, as seen in Graven Hill in Bicester.
If developers could have a guarantee of a six-month process from purchase and planning to discharge of planning conditions, which can usually take up to 12 months, offsite solutions will really come into their own due to the timescales of build and the turnaround/completion of developments with no impact from adverse weather conditions.
Local authorities understand it has to be private sector that will solve the housing crisis in the UK. Statistics are proving that we are falling short.
Banks are preventing the capital flow to assist the smaller developers. There are dozens of grants and schemes that may be accessible for smaller developers but access can be complex and cumbersome, time-consuming and costly.
Can’t we find a way collectively as modular manufacturers to agree standards that can be rolled out nationally?
We may have shared some of the pains faced by Lesko in our first development purchase; however, our second development, which is in Port Talbot, Wales, was easy as 1, 2, 3.
Planning went in for one four-bedroom home, changes to the house were requested by the planning officer to which Lesko politely declined, as the product design is fixed – the benefit of modular repetition for production! Guess what…they came back and accepted permitting approval in four weeks – so it can be done!
Please keep an eye on Lesko Modular Group as the groundworks for its first modular home is to commence in September.
As the production of the home is at second fixing stage in production, the results will soon speak for themselves.