Hallam had a strong 2017 as, in general, the UK house builders put the EU referendum and the General Election behind them. Whilst these events slowed transactions for eight weeks or so in 2016, they did not dent builders’ appetite for land in the right locations.
During the year, Hallam Land sold 15 residential sites comprising 2,169 plots and, at the same time, successfully secured 14 new planning consents (or consent subject to Section 106 agreement) and increased its consented portfolio by 13% to 18,529 plots. We also entered 2018 with 780 plots exchanged for sale later this year. Hallam also sold a three-acre commercial site at Bridgwater to its sister company, Henry Boot Developments.
New consents obtained during 2017 included sites at Swindon (1,000 plots), Bridport (760 plots), Moulton (125 plots), Warton (115 plots), Sapcote (125 plots), Buckingham (400 plots), Haverhill (1,250 plots) and Milton Keynes (524 plots). With regard to land interests, at the year-end Hallam benefited from 2,884 acres with planning consent (or consent subject to signing a Section 106 agreement) and a further 937 acres being allocated in local plans for residential development. In total, at the year end, the Company held 13,273 acres as freehold or under Option/Promotion Agreement.
In terms of particularly significant projects, during the year, Hallam sold the final tranches of our residential land holdings at Bedford and Marston Moretaine, and pleasingly these have been replaced with other substantial projects coming forward, including Didcot (2,170 plots), Market Harborough (462 plots) and Haverhill (1,250 plots).
Contracted only in 2013, our 51% stake in Valley Park, Didcot, has been allocated, planning consent has been obtained and we are now negotiating a sale with a preferred bidder. Similarly, at Haverhill, south east of Cambridge, our 50% stake in the 2,500-plot urban extension to the north of the town is being marketed for sale, and has generated significant interest. At Market Harborough, where we own the freehold of 462 plots with outline consent, the site will be marketed for sale once we have concluded a commercial negotiation with a previous owner. These are just three of a range of larger projects that we control and whilst securing outline planning consent is task enough, it is invariably insufficient to ensure a market sale. To secure a disposal, utility and service provision needs to be guaranteed, infrastructure contracts procured, Reserved Matters planning consent secured and planning conditions discharged. Satisfying these and other buyer requirements takes time and contributes to the Government’s concerns about “land banking”. There are a variety of stakeholders involved in the disposal of strategic urban extension sites to build new communities and satisfying all their requirements takes significant time, effort and diligence.
As to our two long-standing projects; at Cranbrook (the 3,500-unit new community at Exeter) we have negotiated a disposal of 180 plots which exchanged early in 2018; and at Kingsdown, Bridgwater, we completed on a 130-plot sale, exchanged on a further 72 plots and sold three acres of industrial land to Henry Boot Developments. Both projects continue to deliver well, in line with our expectations.
2018 has started positively with 780 plots exchanged for sale. The major UK house builders have reported that they are trading well and we are in advanced discussions with them in relation to a range of our projects. At this stage, we anticipate that 2018 will be another year of steady progress.