PREPARING difficult land and property sites for redevelopment and handling complicated planning negotiations are among the specialist services offered by Oldham’s Grasscroft Group. Founder Mike Coulter (pictured) tells Robbie MacDonald about the group’s work in Oldham and across the UK.
GRASSCROFT Group is a property development and consultancy business working in two main specialisms. Grasscroft Property secures and prepares land for residential or commercial developments, which often involves obtaining planning permission and solving complex technical problems to make sites suitable for development. Grasscroft Development Solutions offers consultancy and development management services for both property and non-property-related companies. Founded in Oldham by Mike Coulter, Grasscroft works with clients and landowners regionally and nationally, from private individuals to developers such as the Peel Group, Redrow, Countryside Properties, Bellway Homes and Wiggett Homes. Its developments range from small rural plots to large mixed-use commercial and residential developments in urban areas. At present Grasscroft is jointly leading work at Foxdenton in Chadderton, a joint venture with Seddon Construction and Oldham Council and a key strategic residential and commercial development for the area. Grasscroft is also regenerating the former Durban Mill site in Hollinwood (Mike is pictured amid the demolition) for new homes, while in Moorside it has sold the Haven Lane site to Redrow Homes. Mike (46) grew up in Chadderton, attended Radclyffe School and Oldham College of Technology, now Oldham College. He gained a first-class honours degree in building at Leeds Polytechnic then an MSc in Housing Quality at the University of Salford. His CV includes working for Partington builders and George Dew civil engineers in Oldham, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), Roland Bardsley in Tameside, Scottish firm Morrison Construction and Taylor Woodrow Capital Developments. He emphasised: “I started as a house builder, but with Grasscroft I now focus on land development and enablement. We create the circumstances to turn scraps of land into something house builders can use.” The bulk of Grasscroft’s work is property development projects, supplemented by development management consultancy services. The latter includes specialist work on negotiating agreements to ensure important regeneration projects aren’t stalled by the (sometimes excessive) demands of local planning authorities. Agreements usually involve the developer providing “affordable” homes or other infrastructure or community benefits. But Mike suggested: “This requirement is right, but sometimes it’s not viable for a developer to provide the full amount. We have to demonstrate what is viable, and have become specialists in presenting these cases. “We make sure the developer’s contribution is at the right level, so the scheme can actually go ahead. “Another of our services is acting as an agent on projects which don’t have the potential to add further value, but must achieve the full market price.” One of Grasscroft’s more complicated projects was reviving a scheme of apartments on various plots around a former Ian Skelly car showroom site in Manchester. This was a development by Manchester Ship Canal Developments, Peel Group and Manchester City Council but was stalled by the recession, around 2008. Grasscroft was brought in to untangle a “spaghetti bowl” mix of planning, rent, financial and construction issues. Mike’s team successfully brought this project to a conclusion and all 105 units and associated investments are now occupied. Through work for First Investments, Grasscroft has successfully handled change of use planning applications for poorly-performing sites across the UK, including areas in Chorley, Wales, London and Kent. One struggling property was recently taken by supermarket Sainsbury’s. Grasscroft’s consultancy arm is also currently busy with projects in Rochdale and Yorkshire. In Oldham, the residential and commercial development at Foxdenton includes £12 million worth of civil engineering works. Mike said: “Foxdenton is a large and complex development, which needed a consortium approach and mix of skills and resources. “Having worked with Seddons previously on sites in Oldham, it was only natural that we should join forces on this project.” Developing the potential of challenging sites is one of Grasscroft’s specialisms. One example was its’ work at the Haven Lane in Moorside in Oldham, where Redrow is building homes. Mike said: “That site was not straightforward. If it wasn’t for a firm like Grasscroft, it would still be undeveloped. It had three different owners – two farming families and Oldham Council. Grasscroft secured the position to buy all three sections, requiring three very different types of contracts, and had to get planning permission. “There were environmental challenges too. It looked like a green-field site but had mine shafts and issues with contamination, drainage and levels. “We turned it into a viable site, did the technical and planning work, and packaged it to be sold to a housing developer.” Working with neighbours and communities is another essential requirement to making developments viable, he stressed. “Developers must bring intelligence and cooperation. Another site at Moorside, with the same planning status as our site, had been subject to two planning rejections because potential developers perhaps hadn’t thought fully about satisfying all the interested parties. “Grasscroft appreciates that there may be hostility to plans; you can’t please everybody all the time. But you can present proposals which demonstrate to the local authority that a development will be good.” Environmental and engineering expertise was central to successfully developing a village site at Greenfield Bowling Club, he said. Grasscroft had to address flooding risks, complicated ownership and aesthetic concerns about a neighbouring plot. The site was later sold for residential development to Bardsley Homes. In urban regeneration, Grasscroft recently demolished Durban Mill in Oldham to redevelop the site for a Countryside Properties housing project. Grasscroft bought the site and will submit a planning application in the next few weeks. Elsewhere in Greater Manchester, Grasscroft has options on 200 acres of land with good transport links for employment and residential schemes over the next five to 10 years. Beyond the north west, the company has worked on developing sites in Shropshire and Staffordshire. having sold prestigious, high-profile sites to Lioncourt Homes and Linden Homes.