Author: Grace Johnstone

Land and Property Professionals

We sell, rent, manage, survey, plan and advise...what can we do for you?

Bedford: 01234 351000 (Sales, lettings and viewing enquiries)
01234 352201 (Professional services and general enquiries)
Buckingham: 01280 428010

In light of recent developments relating to the COVID-19 virus, we are setting out the steps we are taking to ensure that business continues as normally as possible in these unprecedented times, whilst also protecting the health of our staff, clients and preventing the spread of the virus. 

In order to avoid spreading the virus, we are taking the following steps:

1.     Improving hygiene measures within our offices and requiring staff to follow official Government guidance to work from home where this is possible; The offices will remain open for those staff that are unable to work from home and to enable post to be received and distributed.

2.     Requiring staff with COVID-19 symptoms or anyone in their household with symptoms to stay at home in accordance with Government guidance.

3.     Requiring staff returning from abroad to self-isolate in accordance with Government guidance.

4.     Postponing all non-essential meetings and seeking to deal with matters by other methods, such as correspondence or telephone/video conferencing.

5.     If meetings are essential then a pre-screening exercise will be carried out in advance. 

6.     Restricting visitors to our offices to those with a prior appointment and in those cases, pre-screening visitors. 

Much of the professional work that we carry out can be done remotely by email and telephone. Documents are stored electronically, and we have a robust, stable, remote access system. Where staff are working from home, we are confident that there will be no disruption to service levels. You are able to find comprehensive contact details for staff members via our meet the team page.

The UK situation is evolving very fast. You can continue to contact us in the usual way, and we will deliver the high level of service you expect. 

We would appreciate your co-operation and understanding at this difficult time and our thoughts are with those affected by the virus both in the UK and around the world. 

Auction House is reporting a strong start to the New Year, with 51 sales from 63 properties offered, resulting in an impressive 81% success rate for its sales in January.

Commenting on the figures, Charles Lovell, Head of Auction House Robinson & Hall, said: “The year has started with a burst of entries, increased buyer interest and some strong individual auction results. January and February were impressive. Certainly, regional auctions are increasing in popularity and we expect that rise to continue.”

Last year’s official results have now been published by the Essential Information Group (EIG) and the final total at Auction House confirms a record annual achievement, with sales of room auction lots standing at 3,810.

Charles explained: “Last year’s figures represent a rise of 2.7% year on year at a time beset first by Brexit uncertainty, then a General Election, and a reported auctions sector decline of 7.1%. There is no better way to sell a vacant property or one that is tenanted, and land and commercial lots are becoming more sought-after too.”

Auction House is expanding geographically as well. This year has already seen the launch of a new Kent auction room in Maidstone, together with a re-launch of the South Yorkshire region, under different management.

Charles added: “Another positive trend is the growth of Auction House Online after sales of 141 lots last year and entries continuing to grow this year.”

“Without doubt, we are witnessing a resurgence in demand. Buyer reticence has been replaced with eagerness and a new urgency. There’s a fresh wave of interest from many buyer groups and now we need more listings to satisfy those increased activity levels.”

“My message is that the market now favours sellers as there is strong demand and a shortage of lots. Without doubt, now is a great time to sell surplus assets, vacant properties and tenanted investments which landlords want to offload from their portfolios. And with the largest network of UK sales rooms, Auction House is perfectly placed to provide the quickest route to securing best price.”

Auction House Robinson & Hall’s February auctions were last week. There were 19 lots available ranging from land, flats, houses and commercial and 89% sold. A detached three bedroom house sold for £124,000 more than the guide price at £474,000 and a parcel of land measuring approximately three quarters of an acre sold for three times the guide price at £60,000. The full results can be found here:

We are now taking lots for our April auctions; deadline is late March so don’t delay and call us on 01234 362899 to book a no obligation auction appraisal.

Following the publication of the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government announced in November 2019 that it would be introducing a new £50 million scheme to encourage a rapid increase in the number of trees being planted in the UK. The Government hopes that this scheme will aid the expansion of the domestic market for utilising woodland carbon to permanently reduce levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The Woodland Carbon Guarantee Scheme means that landowners can sell the carbon dioxide that their woodland captures to the Government. The successful participants of the scheme will be paid per Woodland Carbon Unit that their new woodlands produce.

A Woodland Carbon Unit is a measurement of a tonne of carbon dioxide, which has been ‘collected’ in a woodland verified by the Woodland Carbon Code.

The Woodland Carbon Units will be sold to the Government at a guaranteed price every five or ten years up to 2055-56. The price is determined by an online reverse auction and is Retail Price Index linked. The auctions are held every six months nationally for a period of up to five years, dependent on take up and available funds. If an auction bid is successful, the land manager will be offered a conditional 30-35 year contract by the Government.

Who can apply?

The scheme is open to land managers who have control of the land and all the activities needed to meet the obligations of the scheme for its full duration. The scheme application cannot include land:

How to apply

To apply for the scheme, land managers first need to register their project with Woodland Carbon Code and must include calculations of how much money they require (per tonne of carbon dioxide) to make their project viable. The woodland creation project will also need to be managed under the Woodland Carbon Code.

What are the benefits?

The landowner benefits with this scheme include generating a long-term stable income from woodland, as well as having the credibility of being involved with a verified scheme. You can also decide to sell the carbon credits on the open market instead of to the Government at any point, providing flexibility within the scheme.

In addition, there is also the opportunity for land managers to apply for grant support in planting and establishing the woodland through existing schemes.

For further information or to find out how our Rural Property & Business department can help you, please contact Katie.

The preferred route corridor for the East West Rail Central Section between Bedford and Cambridge has been announced. The chosen option is Route E which sees the railway go to Bedford Station and then leave Bedford to the north before turning east. There will be a new station between St Neots and Sandy and one at Cambourne with the railway then connecting to the existing railway at Cambridge. The shaded area on the plan below shows the broad corridor in which the railway will lie (click on the map to view a larger version).

Cllr Mark Shaw, Chairman of the East West Rail Consortium (an alliance of local authorities which produced the original business case for the scheme), has hailed the preferred route between Bedford and Cambridge as a ‘landmark moment’ in the scheme’s history. “The Central Section between Bedford and Cambridge has always been the most challenging part of planning East West Rail, given that, unlike the section west of Bedford, it requires a completely new route.”

Robinson & Hall is acting for a number of landowners along the route. East West Rail’s agents are currently approaching landowners within the preferred corridor for access to carry out survey work. We would suggest that landowners take professional advice on the licence terms which are being offered.

If you would like us to advise you on your rights and the process of the scheme then please contact Polly.

The result of the recent general election in December 2019 will inevitably have an impact on planning and development over the next five years.

Accelerated Planning Green Paper

A Planning Green Paper is expected to be commissioned early this year which will seek to make the planning process clearer, more accessible and fairer for all.

The Green Paper is expected to address a number of key issues including resourcing and performance in local authority planning departments, many of which have been understaffed. This may produce an increase in planning fees payable to the local authority but is also likely to be accompanied by an automated refund procedure for applications unduly delayed.

Good Design 

With the Government publication of the recent National Design Guide and the commissioning of the “Building Better, Building Beautiful” report, the importance of good design in development schemes will be further emphasised. Local planning authorities and communities will be encouraged to work together to set their own design standards for new developments ensuring higher quality of homes and allowing local people a greater say in the resulting schemes.

Review of Permitted Development Rights

In the light of recent controversy with Permitted Development Rights, producing sub-standard accommodation, notably Class O which covers office to residential conversions, the Government will be under pressure to review the legislation and we anticipate that the rules will be tightened. This could mean the removal of Permitted Development Rights and further raising of the design criteria.

Delivery of one million homes in five years

The Government has pledged to build at least one million new homes over the next five years. A renewed affordable homes programme is expected to emerge, however the timeline for this is not yet known. The requirement for all sites to deliver affordable housing will be increasingly important and developer arguments based on viability to reduce the number of affordable units in any scheme will come under greater scrutiny.

The Government has committed to offer more homes to local families at a one third discount to market value and make these available potentially for keyworkers e.g. nurses, teachers, care workers, etc.

Environmental changes

With climate change moving to the top of the planning agenda as the UK moves towards a target date of net zero carbon by 2040, the Government is introducing a number of changes to address sustainability issues and environmental concerns associated with the construction of new homes. New homes will need to embrace modern methods of construction and incorporate higher minimum energy efficiency standards following recent Government changes. One major change the Government has announced is the ban of gas boilers in 2025 in a bid to tackle emissions.

Developers will be required to demonstrate a net gain in biodiversity in order to obtain consent.

“Conservation covenants” are being considered. These are voluntary agreements between landowners and “responsible bodies” such as conservation groups which set out conservation obligations which will run with the land, i.e. will bind both the current landowner and any subsequent owners.

Further protection will be afforded to the Green Belt and priority will be given to using brownfield or previously used sites in the first instance.

For more information or to find out how our Planning & Development department can help you, please call Andrew, Alice or Abel.

Auction House has had its most successful year ever, selling more than 3,800 lots across the UK from its network of 40 regional sales rooms, and at an increased success rate of 77.3% (up from 74% in 2018). This means that the total number of properties sold under the Auction House brand in its 12-year history has just exceeded 30,000.

Commenting on the announcement, Charles Lovell, Head of Auction House Robinson & Hall, said: “We are thrilled to have surpassed our 2018 total and set a new record, especially when this was achieved in what was broadly perceived as a difficult and depressed year for property sales, with the double whammy of Brexit uncertainty and a General Election in the fourth quarter.” 

He explains: “What we have seen throughout the year is a growing appetite for room auction services. More sellers are choosing auction and there are still plenty of buyers. Our most popular property type continues to be houses and flats for improvement but we are selling a very wide mix including tenanted properties, land, mixed-use, vacant or occupied commercial lots and properties being sold as investments.”

Charles says that after a hugely successful 2019, attention now turns to the opportunities that 2020 should bring. He explains: “Demand should improve and this will result in stronger prices being achieved at auction. Supply is likely to grow as well, with more small landlords exiting the market and others with vacant properties timing their disposals to fit with an improving economic climate.”

“Government policy will continue to affect the housing market – we hope that new measures will be supportive of home ownership, property investment and house building too. We do need more activity and to see older stock improved. For the auction sector, our attraction of speed and certainty will continue to appeal, plus best price can be quickly delivered through competitive bidding, which is what more and more sellers want.”

“As for online auctions, we expect to grow our numbers and share in 2020 but as yet they are not a viable replacement to room auctions. They can be quicker but certainly not better.”

“Overall, we look forward with optimism and relief that the Brexit stalemate is now behind us. Despite the challenges, Auction House had a fantastic 2019 and we believe that 2020 could be even more successful!”

Auction House Robinson & Hall sold 81% of lots in 2019 and are now taking lots for their February auctions on 26th and 27th February. The deadline is 31st January so don’t delay and enter a lot today.

For an initial, free, no obligation discussion on whether your land or property is suitable for auction, please call Auction House Robinson & Hall on 01234 362899.

On 16th January 2020 the Government reintroduced the Agriculture Bill which, if passed through Parliament, will shape future domestic policy for years to come.

The document itself is an expansion on the previously proposed Agriculture Bill and, whilst much is identical, there have been some important additions. The below applies currently only to England. Wales and Northern Ireland are working on their own devolved policies whilst Scotland has brought forward a Bill to manage the inherited Common Agricultural Policy with any significant change to come later.

What has not changed?

Future policy

The fundamental principle remains “public money for public goods” with a statement on expectations anticipated shortly which builds on the 25 year Environment Plan.

Direct payments

These will run unchanged and at their current level for this claim year, although the Bill gives the Secretary of State authority to simplify the systems where possible.

From 2021 to 2027 an “Agricultural Transition Phase” will see the Secretary of State granted:

Other funding

Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) – this will continue but with scope to be simplified where possible with the potential for shorter term agreements. Some Higher Level Schemes may be offered extensions. Existing agreements could be converted into new Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) agreements.

Environmental Land Management Scheme contracts – these remain the replacement for CSS and will be targeted towards measures which:

Funding could be multi-annual agreements or capital grants. It remains unclear what value is to be ascribed to the benefits delivered by the new ELMS and how that will compare to current funding.  

Rural Development – the priorities remain similar and there will be funding for areas such as business development, risk management and improving productivity, albeit delivered by a different mechanism but likely to remain administered by the Rural Payments Agency.  However, such funding may be time limited to the Agricultural Transition Phase.

What is new?

Food security

There will now be a requirement for the Government to report to Parliament regularly on food security to include:

There is no mention of what further measures may be taken nor of any specific requirements to ensure that domestic food production is supported or protected. However, there is provision for the Secretary of State to intervene in agricultural markets in the event of severe market disturbance by providing financial assistance to farmers in England.

Monitoring of financial assistance

The Secretary of State will now report regularly to Parliament on the impact and effectiveness of financial assistance schemes, both provided by Government and third parties. There is no clarification on the procedure if such schemes are found not to be delivering value for money.

Soil quality

Soil is now specifically mentioned in the Bill with financial assistance targeted towards protecting and improving soil quality most likely through ELMS or research.

Tenancy legislation

The Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 is proposed to be amended as follows:

As with the first introduction of this Bill in 2018, the one caveat to all of the above is that it has yet to be passed through Parliament. Whilst there is now a considerable Conservative majority which should facilitate the Government passing its legislation and much of the content of the Bill already enjoys cross party support, there will remain questions to be answered which may lead to amendments. However, the fact that the content of the Bill remains largely unchanged is a clear signal that this is the direction of future policy, and businesses should prepare accordingly.

If you would like further information on any of the above, please contact our Rural & Property Business team.

Recently we have seen a rise in applications involving listed buildings. Listed buildings are graded based on their significance and importance which affords protection to their special architectural and historic interests. The majority of listed buildings are considered to be Grade II and make up approximately 91.7%. Grade II* make up a further 5.8% and are deemed buildings of more than special interest. Grade I buildings are buildings or structures of exceptional interest and comprise 2.5% of all listings. Many other buildings in close proximity may be “curtilage” listed and are afforded similar protections to help preserve the setting of listed buildings.

If you own a listed building or one which is curtilage listed, you are still able to apply for planning, however you will require a comprehensive and sensitively prepared planning application coupled with a listed building consent application. Permitted Development Rights are not applicable to listed buildings.

Unauthorised works to a listed building is a criminal offence and any individuals carrying out the works, and those who have instructed them, can face prosecution by the local authority.

Planning Case Study – Listed Agricultural Barns

We have recently secured full planning permission and listed building consent for the conversion of a group of listed barns within a small hamlet in Bedfordshire. The permission will enable the retention of a valuable set of traditional barns in an attractive hamlet setting. We worked with our clients to gain planning for three substantial dwellings extending to 675 sqm of floor area.

The site presented a number of constraints including the listing of the barns and their location in a sensitive setting, highway visibility and overall impact on heritage assets. We worked proactively throughout with the planning authority, firstly providing a detailed site appraisal followed by a pre-application enquiry leading to the preparation of a detailed planning application. The process involved a number of revised layouts to overcome some technical issues and latterly the provision of an acceptable alternative access to the site which enabled the scheme to be approved.

Our client was delighted with the result and will be instructing Robinson & Hall’s agency team to market the barns with the benefit of full planning permission.

We work closely with our in-house design team who have a wealth of experience in dealing with buildings of architectural or historic interest. If you have a listed building and wish to explore the planning potential and requirements, please contact one of the members of the Planning Department.

As we start a new year and a new decade, it’s important we all review our habits and energy consumption. Whatever your view on climate change is, the general attitude of the public and media is changing. People appear more willing to make changes in their lives and generally becoming more eco-friendly in their approach. Given how much time we spend in buildings, here are a few things to consider and relatively easy measures we can all take in the buildings we occupy at home and work.

1. Insulation 

Many people occupy older properties which are not very energy efficient. 

One of the easiest and most economical things you can do is to top up your roof insulation. The key is to ensure you do not compress the insulation as this reduces its effectiveness.  Also, please ensure you do not hinder the natural ventilation in the roof space as this may cause condensation and more problems further down the line.

If you have the opportunity to do so, consider incorporating cavity and external wall insulation. These can offer great benefits and dramatically increase the thermal efficiency of your property.

2. Draught proofing 

Draughts are a huge culprit for lost warmth in our buildings, especially in older properties. Areas around ill-fitting windows and doors, letterboxes and chimneys can all leak an awful lot of heat.

Remember you have paid for the heat, so it’s in your interest to keep as much of it in the property as you can. Cutting out draughts will also improve comfort levels whilst also saving you money on your energy bills.

If you have the opportunity to do so, consider more efficient replacement windows. When you consider the combined area of all that glass, you need them to perform efficiently and retain as much heat as possible.

3. Heating system

Winter is the time of year when you need your heating system working at its very best. An inefficient system will use more energy to create the same level of warmth and will end up costing you more in energy bills.

Ask yourself:

If you have the opportunity to do so, consider upgrading your boiler to a modern and more efficient model. It’s generally accepted that any boiler over 15 years old will not be particularly efficient, therefore replacing this together with installing better heating controls will make a huge benefit to your property.

4. Save water

Using less water will save you costs of providing hot water to kitchen appliances, basins and sinks.

How often do you check your water bills? Ask yourself would you notice or spot an anomaly in a bill which may alert you to a leak or possible issue with your water usage?

If you have the opportunity to do so, consider replacing sanitaryware with modern low flush WCs and showers and taps with reduced flow rates. Also always keep an eye out for appliances with water saving labels.

5. Energy saving lightbulbs 

If you haven’t already, changing your lightbulbs to modern LED equivalents is one of the easiest changes you can make to save electricity. There is so much more choice on the market now and making the change is extremely easy and will save you money in the long term.

Each of the above tips will make a small difference. However, if you are thinking about extending or redeveloping a property, you have the chance to make a larger impact with the opportunity to incorporate many of the items on a grander scale. It will also allow you to consider renewable energy including solar panels and heat pump technology which will all help to reduce your energy bills, your carbon footprint and keep you in comfort.

If you occupy an older property, there may be restrictions on what you can do. However, there will still be opportunities to improve energy efficiency.

As we start a new decade, think more ambitiously and decide what you are going to do to reduce your energy consumption and help the environment.

For more information or to find out how our Architecture & Building Surveying department can help you please call Robert.

No two construction projects are alike and the relative freedom of design, procurement options and differing construction methods makes for many options and choices. 
The following guide has been designed to illustrate the general process and the number of options available.

It is always important to seek professional advice and Robinson & Hall’s Architecture & Building Surveying team, in conjunction with our Planning & Development department, would be pleased to advise you.

1. Have a clear vision and detailed brief
It is important to know exactly what you want to get from your site or buildings. We can assist you in understanding how you might be able to achieve it. The brief needs to cover key aspects of the design including the accommodation you require, the size of the structure, your budget, practical considerations, energy efficiency requirements and any other aspirations that are important to the character of the development.

2. Review relevant planning history and policy
This will help you determine what may or may not be possible from the outset. We will assess the potential of the site and provide clear and concise advice as to what may be achieved. Sometimes a pre-application enquiry can be used to identify any key issues of concern that the authority will require addressing as part of a planning application. 

3. Appoint a Principal Designer
Robinson & Hall has a wealth of experience and is able to act as Principal Designer under the Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2015. It is important that this appointment is formalised in writing for domestic projects, otherwise the Principal Designer functions will be retained by the client (together with the statutory responsibilities of a client when having construction work carried out). It is a complex area which we can advise.

4. Carry out a measured survey
Measured surveys involve taking measurements of sites or buildings and will enable our designers to produce accurate plans. These plans are essential for assessing feasibility and for future planning applications. They can also be used to annotate and illustrate any disrepair of the building, which is important in any building conversion.

5. Draw up a sketch scheme
We will prepare a sketch scheme of the proposed development. The design package will generally include a set of floor plans, elevations and sections as appropriate, illustrating what is being proposed. This could also include visualisations which are really helpful to the planning officer and councillors in understanding what the development would look like when completed.

6. Prepare and submit the planning application
Detailed consideration needs to be given as this is what the Council will use to make a decision on the proposals. Schemes have to be well thought through and show a logical pathway to demonstrate how the final scheme has evolved. Often specialist surveys will be required to support an application which may involve trees, ecology, landscape assessment, flooding etc.

7. Prepare technical details and working drawings
These are used to submit an application to the building control authority in compliance with the Building Regulations Act (if applicable). The working drawings detail the type of construction, materials to be used, dimensions and construction details. These details are also intrinsic to obtain competitive quotations for the works. It is always more economical to properly plan a project from the outset. Applying for retrospective consent for works is always high risk and will often be more expensive. 

8. Do you need to comply to the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
Our team has the expertise to advise if your project falls under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. A quick conversation with one of our surveyors will help assess what will be required and to meet your legal obligation under the act.

9. Project management and contract administration
Our services include obtaining competitive tenders, preparation of the building contract, monitoring the construction works, and acting as the Project Manager and Contract Administrator.
We will liaise closely with you at regular stages to ensure you achieve the right outcome, meeting all your expectations and aspirations. We carry out all the contract administration for the project to formalise instructions, certify interim payments, snag the works and issue the practical completion certification.

10. Completion of the project
Upon completion we will prepare a health and safety file containing important documents such as guarantees, warranties, certificates, the specification of materials, recommendations for maintenance and details of the contractors. This type of record is always requested when further development is carried out and solicitors find this information useful when dealing with property transactions.

To find out more information or to discuss your building project, please contact David or Robert.