The future of UK development is collaborative

Collaboration is increasingly becoming a central pillar of many successful regeneration projects as the nationwide focus shifts onto not only building homes but forming communities which provide the holistic benefits expected from modern day society. In recent years, stakeholders on major development and regeneration projects have been pooling resource and expertise to achieve their goals but doing so is not without its risks and all stakeholders must take active steps from the outset to ensure success.

Collaboration is, in its purest form a group of stakeholders operating as a team to agree the priorities of a particular project and in doing so, working towards a common goal. By unlocking the individual skills and expertise of a number of different parties, the goals set out by the project, for example sustainability or transport links, can be worked towards in a more constructive manner.

It’s important to remember that collaboration is not new and has been going on in some form for a number of years. However, growing up front capital costs of projects, combined with extensive planning requirements, means it is much more of a necessity than ever before. The days of a single development project being funded and undertaken by a single entity are increasingly rare.

The issue of sustainability stands as a good example of a project focus which really benefits from collaboration. From a planning perspective, there are numerous conditions which new projects must meet, from boosting the economic prosperity of the area to supporting strong and vibrant communities, right through to minimising the environmental impact of a project, for example by promoting biodiversity and using responsibly-sourced materials.

With the emphasis placed on future-proof developments which will not only stand up to the test of time but also to the increasing awareness around holistic and inclusive building, collaboration between stakeholders with varying skillsets is the only way forward.

Bringing in a number of parties from the outset can be extremely beneficial and in particular cases, can open doors which previously hadn’t been considered. On sites which have material constraints – for example availability of land – working together with local stakeholders can increase the likelihood of optimal pieces of land being unlocked, allowing the development to reach its full potential.

For collaboration to be effective however, all parties must make their priorities clear from the outset. Where previously the local council may have dictated the aims of the particular project and controlled its progress, their role has moved much more to that of a facilitator, drawing together multiple stakeholders. This is particularly beneficial in fostering collaboration as individual parties can share their priorities from the outset and ensure that the group is working as one to achieve them.

Every project carries a degree of risk – particularly in terms of initial financial outlay – but this is often mitigated against as the number of involved parties grows. The majority of this risk is usually taken on by the developer, who holds the main responsibility for constantly monitoring and adjusting the key aspects of the project, whilst keeping all of the stakeholder network informed and involved. This is often a challenging task and many elements, some avoidable, some not, have the potential to throw a major project off course.

Time plays a very important role and as soon as a project begins to miss important deadlines and milestones, the costs involved begin to creep up, ramping up the pressure on the collaborating parties. Mitigating against this is a delicate task and where reducing the number of parties involved may appear a sensible way of reducing the reach, this often comes at the detriment of a development’s attractiveness.

On the flipside, having a number of parties involved also allows a degree of peer pressure to be exerted across the board and the collective need to continue driving a project forward and complete work can be hugely beneficial.

Jumping over the hurdles and overcoming the barriers involved in truly collaborative projects may seem like an arduous task, but the end result is often a development or scheme which really shines.

New Lubbesthorpe, in Leicestershire, is a development which members of the Projects and Infrastructure Group at national law firm Shakespeare Martineau have been heavily involved in from the outset and one that is often regarded as exemplar on a national scale. Located in the East Midlands which is experiencing the fastest rate of growth in the whole of the UK, the project is aimed at providing long-term holistic benefits for the local area and community.

It’s fair to say that a large amount of its success so far has been the willingness of all the parties involved to drive progress and achieve an outcome which ticks all of the boxes. At a base level, the landowner’s appetite for both taking and minimising risk has been hugely beneficial. This has been complemented by an extremely proactive approach from both the district and local authorities to pushing the project on.

With all parties working together, a huge amount can be achieved, one example of which is the construction of a new bridge over the M1 as part of works to improve access to the development. This was a significantly high-cost part of the project and involved collaboration between the Homes and Communities Agency, the local authority and the Highways Authority.

If anything, New Lubbesthorpe should stand as an example of what happens when collaboration is done correctly. The development is far more than a housing estate; it’s a place for future generations to enjoy, with extensive parkland and vital community assets.

Martin Jones is a partner and head of the projects and infrastructure group at Shakespeare Martineau.