At Newcore, we are out twisting the arms of the wealthy and generous of Oxford and the South East to raise £3m of extra funds to regenerate a church, crèche, café, drugs outreach and community centre in one of the poorest parts of Oxford.
A planning application has just been submitted for the project in Blackbird Leys, an area left behind by the prosperity washing over most of the city. It is hard to believe that Oxford, which has the highest house price per salary ratio in the UK and the number-one university in the world, can also house an enclave where 34% of children live below the poverty line and unemployment is four times higher than it is in the rest of the city.
Property owners around Oxford – the university and colleges, The Crown Estate, the Church of England and private investors such as ourselves – have been and continue to be the beneficiaries from big windfall gains as the city grows. An acre of agricultural land granted planning permission for housing or commercial use leaps from £10,000 per acre to (at worst after s106 and affordable housing contributions) £1m per acre in the area.
I sincerely believe that there are groups among those beneficiaries who will be happy to contribute philanthropically alongside our company, knowing that their responsibilities go beyond the money flowing within the planning framework.
We are now out raising those funds and speaking to the wide network of groups that can help us make this happen.
Additionally, on our project, we have a team of architects, planners and other consultants who have worked largely pro bono to date and this has cut the cost of our planning application from £300,000 to £100,000.
We believe that we may be able to find a main contractor to undertake the construction work for reduced margins too; and that the project will give the council and its development partners, with whom our site dovetails, the confidence to accelerate their own regeneration plans.
The wider point is that the whole property investment, consultancy, fund management and construction industries can, through their money, time and in-house skills, play a very powerful part in regenerating left-behind areas of UK cities.
Positive social impact
It is also extremely positive for a business to get everyone who wishes to participate involved. If every property company, fund manager or landed estate were to adopt just one similar project each, working in partnership with its regular consultants, this would not only create a fantastic positive social impact but would also create a log of such projects and a network around them to improve the tarnished image of our industry.
There could be nothing better to encourage talent into the industry, to demonstrate to the public how much good work gets done and to defend against the (often well-made) accusations from the anti-capitalist lobby, which takes a dim view of private equity involvement in property development and regeneration.
Hugo Llewelyn is managing director of Newcore Capital