For the second time Derby City Council has given the green light for The Landmark, a £30 million, 17-storey high-rise residential scheme, which will bring more than 200 apartments to the heart of the city centre.
On both occasions the council’s planning committee voted against an officer recommendation to reject the development in Phoenix Street.
And one of the final hurdles was cleared away when the Government confirmed it would not be calling in the planning application.
Now that planning permission has been secured, Derbyshire Live’s business editor Robin Johnson sat down with Stephen Pratt, Godwin Developments’ group development director, to talk about what will happen next.
Q: Firstly, what is your reaction to the city council approving The Landmark (for the second time)?
A: Speaking for myself, our team at Godwin Developments and everyone who supported us along the way, I can say that we are truly delighted with the result of last month’s planning committee meeting.
We always felt that the Landmark was the right choice for Derby – and it is even more important now, given the current difficult circumstances. Regional economies are facing big challenges and city centres across the country will have to reassess the balance of their residential versus retail offering – creating the right mix will be of great importance to a city’s future.
We believe that we understand Derby very well – not only because our business has East Midland roots, but because I also lived in Derby for a number of years. My knowledge of the city was not created through maps and reports – but through the eyes of a resident.
Living in Derby allowed me to better understand the city’s ambitions and aspirations, to grow, be distinctive, attract visitors and prosper. All of these factors make the approval of the Landmark even more important – because it demonstrates to the people of Derby and the wider investment community that it is a forward-thinking city on a journey to realise its potential.
Q: It has been a long and protracted process. Was there any point where Godwin considered pulling the plug and taking its investment elsewhere?
A: Obtaining planning permission for the Landmark has indeed taken longer than we initially envisaged – but there was never a point where we gave up on the scheme.
We originally secured the site in 2016 and after a thorough appraisal process submitted our plans in 2018. Planning was initially granted in 2019, this then took another 16 months to obtain final confirmation.
Many other developers would have probably walked away from the project within a couple of years – but we were committed to the merits of the scheme and benefits it would bring to the city.
We have mentioned these before – £68 million to the economic activity for Derby, £200,000-plus of annual council tax revenues, £200,000 per annum in new homes bonus, 900 temporary construction jobs, attracting over 500 professionals to the city – all these are in addition to the regeneration and environmental contribution it will make.
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Q: Is the finance in place to deliver the scheme?
A: Now that planning for the development has been secured, we can have more concrete conversations with the investors interested in the scheme.
We know that investors are seeking purpose-built rental opportunities in prime locations within regional cities. Demand for quality rental accommodation in those locations is high, especially when this is coupled with a local economy with good growth prospects – and Derby fits this profile well.
We are currently speaking to a number of interested parties and have had some good productive discussions that are currently on-going.
Q: Any development of such scale was bound to have its detractors. However, the project also has its supporters. Overall, what has the support been like for the scheme in Derby?
A: We received a huge amount of support from a number of key local stakeholders – including Marketing Derby, Derby Cathedral, local businesses, councillors and the wider community.
We are very grateful to them for their active support and encouragement throughout the unusually prolonged planning process. We appreciate that change is not easy; and that local residents have a passion the city’s heritage – which is a huge part of its unique character.
Historical context is an important asset that needs to be preserved but also combined with new development to ensure that the city continues to attract and retain residents and visitors – similar to Nottingham, Manchester and Leeds.
The Landmark is the first step towards reimagining the future of the city, while also providing fantastic benefits to the local community and businesses alike.
Q: The design of the scheme received criticism from some members of the planning committee. Clearly, a balance needs to be struck between aesthetics and viability. Will there be any future amendments to the design?
A: You are right – finding the right mix between aesthetics and viability is the key to ensuring the scheme can be delivered and residents can afford to live there.
Design is also a subjective issue – while there has been some criticism of the Landmark’s appearance, we feel that the current proposal fits well into the surrounding environment and will align with the city’s architecture and colour palette.
The design was created by leading architects Nichol Thomas. The firm has a wide range of experience and a great track record in creating schemes of exceptional standards across the Midlands and the wider UK.
Q: When does Godwin intend to start on site – and what are the timescales in terms of when the first apartments are made available and overall completion of the site?
A: Now that planning permission has been granted for the site, we can evaluate our delivery plans, which will then be firmed up once the funding partner has been confirmed. We are also in discussion with third-party suppliers such as building contractors, assessing their current workload and ability to start on site.
We have had to take into consideration that some of them have project backlogs or are operating at reduced capacity – caused by additional social distancing measures. As soon as a timeline of work has been confirmed, we will inform members of the local community – this will include a start-on-site date and availability of the first homes for potential residents.
Q: Today, we find ourselves in a very different economic landscape compared to when plans for The Landmark were first put forward. What impact, if any, has the coronavirus crisis had on Godwin?
A: We were one of the few businesses in our industry that was largely unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic. We did transition – like many other companies – to remote working but were very fortunate to have been able to retain all our employees without the need to access the Government’s furlough scheme.
Throughout the lockdown, our team has been able to continue working at full pace and we have also managed to secure several new sites, while also progressing other developments where it was safe to do so.
Q: There may be difficult times ahead in terms of the economy. How confident are you there will still be demand for this new accommodation once it is built?
A: We are confident that the rental market will remain strong – this has been proven by the demand for quality rented homes and residents’ uptake of similar schemes across the country.
New purpose-built rental accommodation is increasingly part of the wider solution to help tackle the national housing shortage. The Landmark will be built specifically with the higher-end rental market in mind.
It will stand apart from other similar schemes through the provision of additional amenities that are not currently available in other residential schemes in Derby.
It will be professionally managed and maintained at all times and will focus on delivering excellent accommodation and service to its residents. The scheme is targeted mainly at the professionals and graduates, who work in the city but choose to live elsewhere, and those who eventually migrate to other urban locations because of better choice and lifestyle.
We also expect it will also attract others currently living in Derby who may be looking for a better place to rent.
We believe strongly in providing a new choice for residents looking for quality accommodation with high levels of service and professional management. The Landmark will deliver both of these and will be support the regeneration of Derby city centre.
Q: Derby seems to be taking a proactive approach to rebooting its economy, with the establishment of the Economic Recovery Task Force and the setting out of priorities to boost the city. What do you think of these moves and how will Godwin feed into these efforts?
A: We welcome and support the creation of the Derby Economic Recovery Task Force. The initiative is very much needed and shows a great partnership between the public and private sector in tackling the substantial challenge ahead.
We are in complete agreement with the priorities of the task force – maintaining confidence among businesses and investors, diversifying the city centre and its employment base, as well as decarbonisation.
The Landmark will contribute towards all three objectives – it will bring in new investment, help to reinvent the city centre through supporting retail and the night-time economy, provide more amenities, allow residents to walk rather than drive into the city, protect it from flood risk and ensure that those that work in the city can live in Derby, work in Derby and spend in Derby.
Q: Finally, the city council overturned an officer’s recommendation to refuse permission for The Landmark twice, as it recognised the economic benefits. Overall, what message do you think this sends out about Derby to other companies considering investing in the city?
A: It sends the right message – that Derby is a forward-looking city, that is proactively managing its future, and works collaboratively with all stakeholders in an inclusive manner to curate its destiny.
It demonstrates new thinking and new possibilities for developers such as us, for funding partners, for businesses that are seeking to attract and retain talent, and for the council that can grow income and investment for the benefit of the local community.