Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Freeing up land is the key to solving the housing crisis, experts say

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Stephen WilliamsMaking more land available, supporting smaller housebuilders and channelling both public and private investment into affordable homes will solve Britain’s housing crisis, experts said this week.

Speaking at a roundtable hosted by Marlborough-based Brewin Dolphin, the leading wealth manager, experts from housing advocates Shelter, housebuilder Galliford Try and Brewin Dolphin discussed ways of dealing with the gap between the 110,000 estimated new homes that are being built every year and the 232,000 that are actually needed.

Brewin Dolphin equity analyst Stephen Williams said that, investing in affordable housing should be “a win, win situation for those in need of a new home, investors and the housebuilders.”

“The majority of volume housebuilders are not interested in affordable housing but those companies considering partnerships and joint ventures into affordable housing indicate the significant potential for investors. There is a huge opportunity and new ventures are opening to respond to this. ”

Solutions that the experts discussed included:

Building new garden cities

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is expected to announce a string of new garden cities between Oxford and Cambridge within weeks, while Shelter has proposed a garden city on the Medway in Kent.

Peter Jefferys, Senior Policy Officer at Shelter, said these developments are crucial not just in making affordable housing available to those most in need but also in creating crucial jobs, by building homes on attractive, yet complex, sites as well as mixed use projects with commercial elements. Every facet of the development process benefits, including the preparation that goes into making a site developable in the first place.

Giving cities greater powers to manage their own housing solutions

Jefferys said that the key to solving the crisis was to “give cities the power to be able to grow effectively to meet their housing need.”

“There are other countries that are excellent at doing this. Germany and the Netherlands in particular have built affordable, quality homes in densely populated areas by giving their cities the power to zone land and set up joint public/private development partnerships. The UK has done similar things – for example the Olympic Park – but never at scale across the country,” he said.

A hybrid public private business model for housebuilding

Public land should be brought in at low or nil-cost, with rental income generating a yield over the investment period instead of up-front payments. This is a particularly good method for dispersed public land, said Stephen Teagle, MD of Affordable Housing and the Regeneration Division at Galliford Try.

“How can the private sector help to develop something traditionally provided by the public sector?” Teagle asked.

“The demand is there, affordable housing is fundamental to UK infrastructure and the city can provide the means for supply to meet demand. Viable schemes will attract the investment and the investors are ready to commit. The housing supply crisis can begin to be addressed by housebuilders using a blended model and delivering mixed tenure solutions with housing associations.”

A longer term perspective on current housing

Shelter said there needs to be greater fiscal incentives put in place by policy makers to encourage investment into the sector, recognising the shortage. If people are to be living in these new builds for the next few centuries, they can’t survive on “rabbit hutch” 1 and 2 bedroom houses alone, so larger variety of housing categories need consideration.

Further, recent schemes such as the “help to buy” scheme find people getting stuck; leveraging themselves heavily without any ability to move on once their families grow.

Waiving stamp duty for older people

Williams raised the question of whether, by waiving stamp duty for empty nesters with larger homes, they might be encouraged to downsize.

The key is land supply

All of the experts involved in the roundtable agreed that land supply is the real key to solving Britain’s housing shortage.

When asked for a wish list from the next government, Teagle wanted to see reform of planning permission, fiscal incentives for investors and the freeing up of registered providers and local authorities to release more land at a faster pace. Shelter agreed land is the biggest issue.

Kilpatrick & Co brokers property deal in record-breaking three weeks

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The freehold of a business premises in Swindon’s Commercial Road has changed hands, following a deal brokered by commercial property agents Kilpatrick & Co within a record three-week timescale.

87 Commercial Road, SwindonThe firm has sold the freehold interest in 87 Commercial Road - formerly occupied by Andrews Martin Solicitors - to a private buyer.

Stephen Brickell of Kilpatrick & Co said: “We are delighted to have sold the freehold to a locally-based private property investor, who I gather is intending to convert the upper parts of the property to residential accommodation and retain the ground floor commercial unit.

“The property was marketed extensively and we are delighted to have agreed a sale and completed the transaction within a record three week timescale.”

Wiltshire businesses help Molly’s garden grow

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Lee Trunks (middle), programme manager for WellChild’s Helping Hands project, with members of WellChild’s Helping Hands team and their Mitsubishi ASXThe mother of a girl with profound disabilities has paid tribute to children’s charity, WellChild, and volunteers from CCR Mitsubishi and Ardent Office Solutions who joined forces this week to transform the family’s garden.

Through one of its renowned Helping Hands projects, WellChild was joined by 13 members of staff from CCR Mitsubishi dealerships in Swindon, Melksham and Cheltenham and staff from Ardent Office Solutions, based in Quedgeley, to help 14-year-old Molly Begley have a safe, accessible garden to enjoy.

Molly, from Swindon, has epilepsy, autism, profound learning difficulties, global development delay and scoliosis. She is in remission from a Wilms tumour, a particularly aggressive form of cancer, but treatment has left her with a number of complex health care needs. It takes two adults to support her on trips out, so leaving the family home is difficult.

Molly loves the outdoors and using a swing but, while mum Claire has had their house in Pinehurst Road adapted to meet Molly’s needs, the garden has proved too big a challenge.

Mum-of-four Claire Cook contacted the Helping Hands team at WellChild, the Cheltenham-based national charity for seriously ill children and young people, after hearing about them from Molly’s occupational therapist. The team has spent the last two days (November 19th and 20th) transforming the garden to meet Molly’s needs.

Claire, 36, said: “The garden looks amazing and this will make a massive difference to us. It will change Molly’s life. She will be able to go outside and play and it will benefit her health because she can be more active.

“It will also be great for her brothers and sister who can now play out. It looks great and Molly is really excited, her face lit up. I’m really grateful to everyone at WellChild, CCR Mitsubishi and Ardent for their support.”

Lyndsey Smith, group marketing co-ordinator for CCR Mitsubishi, which has 11 dealerships across the south, said: “It was hard work but the look on Molly’s face when she saw her new garden made it well worth it. We’re all really pleased to have helped on such a worthwhile project and we hope the family enjoy their new space.”

The work included breaking up existing concrete, levelling the garden, putting down artificial grass and a sensory area, installing new fencing and putting in a swing.

Lee Trunks, programme manager for WellChild’s Helping Hands project, said: “WellChild is only able to complete projects like this thanks to volunteers.

"Without them we wouldn’t be able to help children like Molly. It’s great that the team from CCR Mitsubishi and Ardent have helped us make such a difference. This will make a life-changing difference to Molly and her family.”

FSB calls for Autumn Statement to deliver investment and support business ambitions

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George OsborneA reform of business rates, tax simplification, better roads and faster broadband is needed against a backdrop of solid support for small businesses, says the Federation of Small Businesses.

In its submission to Government in advance of Autumn Statement on 3 December, the FSB has called on the Chancellor to continue supporting business confidence by reforming business rates, taking forward tax simplification, and investing in infrastructure to strengthen and rebalance the economic recovery.

With continued uncertainty in the Eurozone and elsewhere, the body says, the priority for the Government must be to place the UK economy on a sound fiscal footing to secure its future growth and create the best possible environment for firms to do business, both in the UK and globally.

In its submission, the trade body writes:

"Reforming business rates

"With the ending of the doubling of small business rates relief in March 2015, almost half a million (384,000) small businesses are at risk of returning to paying rates they can ill afford, with thousands more (190,000) potentially seeing their rates bills double.

"With the economic recovery just taking hold and many firms on the High Street still struggling, it is essential that the temporary doubling of relief, announced in the 2013 Autumn Statement speech, is extended.

"The FSB is also calling for improvements to the system for valuation and appeals which are overly bureaucratic, and above all a commitment to fundamental reform of the businesses rate system.

"Investing in infrastructure to rebalance the economy

"The FSB is calling for the Chancellor to announce additional investment in our national infrastructure, to ensure the UK remains competitive internationally and to help rebalance the UK economy.

"It is clear that the lack of investment and ongoing delays in making decisions, such as those around additional airport capacity, are a drag on UK productivity and growth particularly in the regions outside London and the South East.

"A key priority for the Chancellor should be to invest in improving our road infrastructure, and address bottlenecks in regional road networks. Eighty two per cent of small firms rely on the road network to run their businesses.

"To rebalance the economy and stimulate growth outside London and the South East, improving and diversifying transport connections between key Northern cities such as Manchester and Sheffield is vital, building on the "One North" approach recently endorsed by the Chancellor.

"As part of this, serious consideration should be given to a tunnelled trans-Pennine road route to complement the proposed HS3 rail development.

"Creating a faster more modern digital infrastructure is essential for businesses growth, and is a vital tool to encouraging growth in all parts of the UK. Ninety four per cent of small business owners consider a reliable internet connection critical to the success of their business.

"Access to broadband services is now the ‘Fourth Utility' and the Government's ambition for future broadband should match this reality. The FSB is calling on Government to commit to delivering a minimum 'service level floor' of 10 Mbps to all premises in the UK by 2018-19, rising to 100 Mbps for all premises by 2030.

"Tax simplification

"The FSB is asking the Chancellor to commit to further simpler tax simplification that reduces deadweight costs on compliance and makes rules easier to understand and comply with.

"Overly complex tax rules cost small businesses both time and money, with more than three quarters paying around £3,500 a year to comply with obligations.

"Action to simplify rules is needed as three fifths of small businesses report the UK tax system has a negative impact on their ability to take on more staff and grow."

John Allan, National Chairman of Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Businesses want an Autumn Statement that delivers stability and certainty, and provides them with incentives to grow and create employment.

"That means investing in our infrastructure to match the world's best, whether that be broadband, road, rail or air. Regional connectivity, particularly between our great cities in the North, must be improved if the region is to reach its full potential and challenge the economic prowess of London.

"We encourage the Chancellor to progress plans to set out how that vision might be fulfilled. Likewise, we would like to see sights set far higher on broadband connectivity to power the UK's digital economy.

"On taxes, businesses will be looking for measures to ease the cost of business rates, and a commitment to fundamental reform of the current, outdated system. To support business growth and reduce costs, further efforts to simplify our complex tax system should also form a central part of the Statement.

"The FSB has also long called for simplified and sharpened business support to match businesses' growth ambitions. Unfortunately current schemes have not had the impact they should have, which is why the FSB has called for reforms.

"We are pleased the Government has reviewed the current offer this year, with a view to making it easier to access. We now look forward to seeing what progress has been made."

Wiltshire financial planning firm joins elite group of chartered advisers

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Huw JonesA Wiltshire financial planning company has been awarded prestigious chartered financial planner status by the Chartered Insurance Institute.

Malmesbury-based Proposito Financial Planning joins an elite group of firms which have met the rigorous criteria relating to professionalism and capability demanded by the CII, and to be granted chartered status.

All chartered financial planners commit to the CII’s Code of Ethics, reinforcing the highest standards of professional practice in their business dealings.

Proposito Financial Planning specialises in providing bespoke financial planning services to individuals and businesses.

Huw Jones, director, who holds the individual chartered financial planner title, says that securing chartered financial planner status is a landmark for his company. “We have always prided ourselves on being thoroughly professional in everything we do, and to receive external recognition in this way is very gratifying.

“As chartered financial planners, we signal our commitment to the highest levels of service to our customers.”

To date, fewer than 400 firms have achieved chartered status, indicating that this is a highly exclusive award reserved for the leading firms within the financial advice market.

For further information visit www.proposito.co.uk or contact Huw Jones on 01666 829224

Export market “key to mid-sized businesses in the South West”

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Andrea Bishop of BDODespite making up less than one percent of all firms in the South West, medium-sized businesses account for £1 of every £4 exported from the region, according to new figures from BDO.

Overall, sales abroad total £3.2bn among mid-market companies in the region, representing five percent of all UK exports by mid-sized firms.

However, despite the impressive contribution, the South West’s mid-market is falling behind other regions when it comes to sales abroad.

The value of exports from medium-sized businesses in the North West (£6.4bn), West Midlands and East of England (both £6.3bn) is double or nearly twice the size.

The South West’s consumer markets sector (retail, wholesale and leisure) is the most prolific exporter, accounting for a third of all goods and services sold to overseas markets (£992m).

Meanwhile, medium-sized manufacturers export £834m and professional services come in third with £462m.

Andrea Bishop, audit partner and head of BDO LLP in the South West, says medium-sized firms are still under-valued when it comes to their contribution to UK growth and economic recovery.

“Approximately 75 percent of all mid-market exports take place outside London and South East, yet the government’s focus still lies heavily on London. As policy makers strive to rebalance the economy, it’s important to recognise that regional mid-market firms contribute significantly.

“What’s exciting, yet equally frustrating, is that they’d have even more growth potential if the right support was in place.

“The appetite for international expansion is there – we saw that in spades at the Export Week roadshow that took place in the South West last week. It’s now up to the government to put the right policies in place and give companies in the region the tools to thrive.”

As part of its Mid-Market Manifesto, BDO is calling on the government to consider three policy recommendations to help mid-sized businesses make the decision to export more confidently.

These are to introduce a VAT zero rating to companies that supply to qualifying exporters, something that is already in place in Ireland; agree an exemption from local taxes up to a £1m threshold for when businesses open a new branch or subsidiary overseas; and a review of the unintended consequences of the Bribery Act which, by its sheer complexity, is acting as a real regulatory barrier for new exporters.

MP opens refurbished office complex

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MP Justin Tomlinson at the opening of the refurbished Gemini HouseEight new companies have been attracted to Gemini House at Groundwell in Swindon since the first phase of its major refurbishment programme was completed.

A new reception area and totally overhauled communal internal courtyard have helped to lift the property which now offers good quality offices in a tranquil setting.

“Minton Group is proud to have attracted a wide range of new occupiers to Gemini House,” said Ashley Bourne, director of the building’s owners, who recently hosted a drinks reception for occupiers and business leaders.

Justin Tomlinson, MP for Swindon North, visited the building and was able to talk to new occupiers including recruitment agents, eyewear suppliers, IT providers, website designers and financial consultants.

He welcomed the inward investment that has been undertaken at the property to create quality offices at affordable rents which has encouraged business expansion.

"It's fantastic to see investment into newly refurbished office spaces which is encouraging new businesses to come here and provide jobs.

“Here in North Swindon, we have seen 5,345 new business start-ups, helping deliver over a 50 percent fall in unemployment, since May 2010.

“This is, in part, thanks to buildings like this, which encourage new entrepreneurs and companies to grow and develop here in Swindon,” he said.

Joint letting agents Alder King and Keningtons have witnessed a high level of enquiries following the refurbishment.

James Gregory, partner at Alder King, said: “As the economy has steadily improved during 2014, we have seen companies keen to capitalise on the opportunity to take occupation of their own offices on flexible terms.

“The building also offers excellent access to the A419 and the town centre as well as offering excellent car parking.”

Jeremy Sutton, partner at Keningtons, said: “It has been pleasing to see companies who have only been in occupation for a few months needing to expand already. Gemini House provides a wide range of different sized suites and therefore we have been able to accommodate people’s needs”.

For further information regarding the current availability at Gemini House, contact James Gregory at Alder King or Jeremy Sutton at Keningtons.

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