Savills’ Reading development team focuses on placemaking

    Ed Keeling, director of Savills Reading office development department, talks to Tim Wickham about the importance of ‘placemaking’ for new residential developments, so they create communities where people want to live.

    Guidance issued by the Government and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors on placemaking for new residential developments encourages planning and design with people in mind. Savills has published its own placemaking research and uses this to make sure the landowners and developers it advises prepare plans that measure up to these aspirations.

    “We see placemaking as the future. It’s good for the wider environment and drives better prices for houses. Many of our landowner clients are legacy driven – they want to make sure developments are built in the right way,” said Ed Keeling, director of development at Savills.

    Keeling’s development team works with landowners and developers throughout the land sale and planning stages for projects of all sizes, from a few to thousands of properties. Savills is a relative newcomer to Reading. Keeling moved from its Oxford office to set up the development team when the Reading office opened in 2013.

    Ed Keeling

    Reading a good move

    “Savills had been looking at starting a Reading office for a long time and in 2013 we felt the timing was right. The Thames Valley is a big employment hub and the announcement shortly after we opened that Reading would be on Crossrail was a real game-changer for us – our general workflow accelerated,” he said.

    Keeling started the Reading team with around 10 instructions, including major clients Thames Water and the University of Reading. The team’s biggest project to date was acting for the university in the sale of its land at Shinfield to a consortium of developers to build 1,450 homes.

    “At the time, Shinfield was probably one of Savills’ largest projects outside London,” said Keeling. “It helped us establish our reputation in Reading.”

    His team’s current pipeline of projects is around 70 to 80. Most land deals are valued at £1 million-£5m, whereas Shinfield topped £100m. Other significant deals currently underway include developments in Maidenhead and on behalf of the Englefield Estate near Reading.

    “There are a lot of high-density town centre brownfield developments around, mainly with flats. However, the current projects being advised upon are proposed lower density on greenfield, with more family-type housing. There isn’t such a large supply of these types of development opportunities,” said Keeling.

    The team is working with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead on a draft allocation for 2,000 houses at Maidenhead Golf Course. Savills is currently selecting a developer to recommend to the council. The team is also providing planning and development advice to the Englefield Estate in relation to various significant development projects across the Thames Valley.

    Affordability challenge

    Housing affordability is a huge issue in the region and Keeling noted that councils are tightening their requirements for developers to stick to targets in new developments. “We’re likely to see the planning process taking longer as developers and councils debate the volume of affordable houses in new-build projects,” said Keeling.

    The Government’s Help-to-Buy shared ownership scheme is another important influence on the residential property market. “Developers know they can sell units and get a return on capital more quickly with the scheme. It would cause a lot of disruption if it was ever removed,” noted Keeling.

    Another trend affecting the Reading market is the rise of rented accommodation. “Many people in their 30s and 40s accept that they could be renting all their lives. But if large-scale rented schemes come to dominate the market, then we could lose the community feel of developments,” he said.

    A strong network

    Keeling puts a lot of emphasis on networking and forging strong relationships with local businesses and competitors. “We have good relationships with other agents and law firms. We meet both socially and to discuss market opportunities. We came to Reading to complement those like-minded, similar practices already here, considering that there’s a significant supply of work, and the horizon is looking extremely positive with all the attributes the town and wider region offers.”