England: New Business Sectors and Regeneration in Europe: Are we really very different?
The ADVOC Real Estate Practice Group met in Eindhoven in April 2019.
We were made very welcome by our hosts, Boels Zanders and were treated to an excellent dinner on the first night which was an interesting venue with the surrounding art which heightened the overall experience.
On the Friday, we had a series of presentations covering the development of new sectors in countries represented by ADVOC members. This was followed by presentations regarding key sector developments in the Netherlands including Greenport, Venlo and Brainport, Eindhoven, a key technology region in Europe.
The aim of these sessions, to state the obvious, is to learn. In reality, ADVOC provides a great platform to understand what pressures affect our colleagues in Europe and across the world, but also provides a great opportunity to see how different countries deal with issues which are common to all of us.
Our sessions in Eindhoven provided some key learnings from the presentations and also provided the sense that in reality many of the problems facing redevelopment, new sectors and regeneration are not that different. As countries we may have different methods of delivery and resolving problems, but fundamentally we all seem to grapple with the same issues.
So what were the common themes?
- Vision for regeneration - It is clear than many of the problems our towns and cities face are the same – dilapidated buildings, contamination from former land uses, social problems – a good example here was the prostitution problem explained by Burkhard Herzog in his talk about Postdamer Strasse, Berlin and a court judgment refusing permission for a brothel use of a key building was a defining moment.
- Planning and regulation – planning bureaucracy can slow development down. In Italy there are at least 5 layers of planning regulation to consider. Giulia Comparini explained that it is not flexible, albeit in Milan the system is more flexible and several regeneration projects are underway highlighting the difference streamlined bureaucracy can make.
- Finance – The availability of finance, in particular public subsidy, can be critical. In the UK for example, Homes England funds a multitude of projects through different funding streams. On brownfield sites in particular this can make the difference between viability or not;
- Timing – there are many factors which impact on whether the time is right to bring forward a large projects. Regulation can in particular affect this. Maciej Kuropatwinski outlined the impact on timing in Gdansk, where protection of a monument was extended. This meant that the construction permit was invalidated and meant that new regulations had to be taken into account, delaying the commencement of works. Ultimately, during the course of delay, the economy may alter for example which may lead to a credit squeeze and less private funding being available;
- Litigation risk – There are many challenges to regeneration which can affect the delivery of projects. In large UK cities, rights to light and air can be a particular problem in terms of third parties challenging the height of buildings. Sometimes this can have a positive effect such as in the Postdamer Strasse scheme, albeit that litigation always has the potential to delay the timing of a project.
My overall impression of a first ADVOC event was that as lawyers across the international divide we have a lot in common. We experience the same issues to get deals and projects over the line and share the frustration in terms of delaying factors.
This has led me to the conclusion that we can learn form each other. Whilst on the face of it jurisdictions are different, the reality is that solutions to problems in one country, may apply in another country albeit that may not seem obvious.
In summary, this was a fascinating introduction to ADVOC and I look forward to our next Real Estate conference.
Paul Butterworth is a Real Estate Partner at Ashfords LLP in England. Paul advises housing clients on major regeneration and development projects, as well as on private and public finance in the sector.
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