In a time of budget constraints, realising the best value from estate assets is front and foremost in a number of public sector organisations countywide. Over the last two years, our role with the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) on their Strategic Intent Site Disposal Programme has been to assist in their asset management and site release programming, identifying land uses and design parameters that can improve the planning position and, therefore, the value of surplus assets. Achieving best value is key to our involvement in all of our clients’ projects, but it is particularly important for organisations such as the SFRS where the receipts raised are directly reinvested into the Service.
Our first role was to undertake initial site planning appraisals for the identified sites. These represented a range of locations across the country, mostly surplus headquarters or control room buildings, with significantly varying site contexts. By identifying key constraints and opportunities from site/policy contexts, we were able to assess the chance of planning permissions being given for potential new land uses and identify short, medium and long term opportunities for the SFRS.
What set this role apart was the need to carefully consider the likelihood and timescales of securing planning permission with the likely value uplift secured each year, as the SFRS need to reinvest within a certain period after receipts are realised. This meant that it was important to identify the complexity and order of projects to ensure that we were delivering results, and capital receipts, at a rate appropriate to the SFRS’s development programme.
Site at Gullane, East Lothian
Following the review, five sites clearly stood out as strong opportunities. The former Fire Training College in Gullane was the first we took on, to fit in with the emerging Local Development Plan (LDP) timescales and the fact it needed to be vacated, but also due to its potential to raise good value for the Service.
As a redundant training centre in the heart of this East Lothian tourist hub, this site could easily have posed a big challenge in terms of public perception and support as there was a preference from local members for the site to accommodate employment, business or tourism uses. Working with agents, we identified minimal market interest or potential in these uses and conveyed this during public engagement processes. This quickly revealed a positivity around prompt redevelopment due to the site’s detrimental impact on the village in its current state.
As a result, our subsequent proposals for residential development proved popular with both the Council and community and it successfully secured Planning Permission in Principle (PPP) in 2015 before it was then sold to a national housebuilder. Having undertaken a basic review of the value uplift of the site following the PPP, incorporating changes in East Lothian’s market over this time, a direct uplift in the asset’s value due to planning intervention of circa 78% was achieved, for the SFRS in two years.
Site at North Anderson Drive, Aberdeen
We have also assisted the SFRS by managing and securing PPP, including urban design and engagement services, for up to 90 homes on redundant land and buildings at the former North HQ at North Anderson Drive in Aberdeen. Again, considering residential development to be most appropriate for this prominent brownfield site, we used our knowledge of housebuilders’ portfolio requirements to prepare a suitable indicative layout.
Following PPP, in line with public sector disposal rules, the site was firstly offered to the Scottish Government who are now helping to arrange its purchase to assist with the national affordable housing delivery programme. Although this process is ongoing, we have examined potential value uplift through a recent valuation which suggests that, despite a significantly declining residential market in Aberdeen, the planning intervention is likely to help to deliver a value uplift of circa 29%.
Site at Lauriston Place, Edinburgh
Finally, at Lauriston Place, the SFRS faced a very different challenge in deciding upon the best route for redevelopment of a prominent Category A listed building in Edinburgh. Our architects were on hand to offer an efficient review of sub-division and redevelopment opportunities, working closely with a cost consultant. This helped the SFRS to discount the option of splitting the building and it was put on sale as a full site. This was too much of an opportunity for Edinburgh University to miss in purchasing the site to complete the quadrangle of the Edinburgh College of Art campus.
We continue to work on the SFRS portfolio, with some interesting opportunities remaining. Although these have generally been strong brownfield sites in good locations, it is always satisfying to see evidence that well considered planning and design interventions do bring significant improvements in a site or asset’s value.
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Site Appraisal, Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Institutional Use