Strategic Land and Rural Development

The Strategic Land Group at Forsters has the legal expertise, commercial awareness, experience and pragmatism to guide you through the process of development projects from conception to delivery.

By Strategic Land, we mean areas of land for urban extension, urban regeneration and new settlements primarily for residential development with ancillary uses. We have experience in enabling opportunities for planning for development and infrastructure.

New development on a strategic scale requires the careful planning and promotion of the site for allocation for development in the local plan and land assembly to provide a site which is deliverable, because all the owners are united in their intention. A new site requires master planning to show how the development may be laid out to provide housing and to add to the local community.

Funding the planning process to achieve an optimal planning outcome and to lead to the eventual sale to a house builder, is usually well outside the budget and expertise of a single landowner or a group of neighbouring owners.

As the government’s commitment to ambitious targets for the delivery of new homes remains consistent, the challenges facing developers and landowners in delivering new homes is constantly evolving. Ecological mitigation measures, drivers for climate change and sustainability and the rising cost of infrastructure and development are just some of the key factors that contribute to a challenging but hugely valuable marketplace.

What we advise on

  • Strategic land acquisition and site assembly
  • Advising on title issues including restrictive covenants, easements and wayleaves
  • Property holding structures
  • Conditional contracts, options, hybrid option/promotion agreements and promotion agreements
  • Overage agreements
  • Equalisation of sale proceeds via land pool trusts and other collaboration agreements
  • The mechanics of the planning process, securing an allocation in the Local Plan, planning application, s106 agreements, CIL and compulsory purchase orders.
  • Construction procurement
  • Forward funding and development finance
  • Infrastructure provision
  • Disposal of developed units
  • Tax planning and advice

Why Forsters?

We represent landowners, developers, and land promoters involved in development projects, with particular experience in advising landowners with greenfield or brownfield land for development.

We have a clear understanding of the relationship between the different interests of the parties involved and work collaboratively to drive projects forward, whilst upholding and preserving the interests of our client. We pride ourselves in being not just lawyers, but strategic advisors with an interest in and awareness of the sector from a commercial and political perspective.

When acting for landowners, we work in a team closely with their retained advisers (including the retained lawyers) to progress, negotiate and deliver the initial development agreement. We meet landowners and their agents, inspect their potential sites, and help with the process of interviewing and selecting a business partner, whether it be a land promoter or a major housebuilder.

Every project has its own commercial drivers and hurdles and we ensure that all aspects are carefully considered, and each client’s particular interests are prioritised. We offer a dedicated team who will see the project through all its stages, providing continued support and advice as it progresses.

How we work at each stage of a development project

1. Agreeing Heads of Terms and Entering into an Agreement for Development

Before progressing to the negotiating stage of an agreement, we will assist our clients and their agents to ensure that the Heads of Terms set out a clear framework for a development agreement which reflects the best structure for the development agreement to meet the objectives of the project.

When Heads of Terms are agreed, we will deal with all aspects of preparing and negotiating the Development Agreement to identify and resolve any legal, title or other issues that could hinder progress. We aim to ensure that the landowner is free to manage the land, until the development is imminent.

Whether the project is progressed by a promotion agreement, an option, a hybrid option/promotion agreement, conditional sale contract or a Joint Venture agreement our team has the experience to advise and negotiate on each of these and on their different tax implications, comprehensively.

2. Tax Planning

Consideration of the tax aspects and the timing of a project is critical to ensure that the project is deliverable, that the structure is tax efficient and that sale proceeds will be received to pay the tax when due and to ensure a satisfactory cash flow as a return to the landowner. Our team has in-depth experience in tax structuring for both landowners and developers.

Where a number of neighbouring owners come together to provide a sufficiently large area of land to provide a deliverable development site, we give advice on equalisation agreements and land pooling arrangements to provide a tax efficient method between the owners, to share development proceeds.

3. Planning

Once the project is underway, a major part of the delivery of the project will be the submission of an application for planning permission, by developer or promoter, followed by the negotiation of delivery of planning gain required by the planning authority (usually the local Council) to mitigate the adverse local effect of the development These are contained in the Planning Agreements which the landowner has to sign before the planning permission is granted.

The mitigation measures can be both costly and unusual, ranging from providing affordable housing, funds for access roads or a site for a school, to providing police bicycles, money to fund the local library and open space areas.

Whether the landowner’s role is to approve the planning application, to agree to the planning gain requirements or to be a stakeholder in a joint Venture arrangement, our planning team will guide you through process and provide you with the right advice to protect your interests whilst enhancing the project.

4. Disposal and Legacy

You only get one chance when selling a parcel of development land and we have experience over many years of guiding landowners, working with the land agent on the sale negotiation process to make sure nothing is left out. This often includes reserving rights to be paid if in the future the developer is able to secure additional planning permission, so a site is can be intensively developed.

Long after a developer has sold his houses, it will be the local owner to whom local complaints are addressed if something is left undone, whether it be a stony playing field or landscape planting which dies.

Many landowners do not wish simply to sell a site and walk away with a tidy sum, and increasingly owners are concerned with the long-term legacy of a development project. The key to this is the creation and preservation of the legal property rights to benefit the landowner on the disposal of a site to a developer or housebuilder. Our landed estates team has extensive experience in all aspects of property sales, in particular preserving the necessary rights and restrictions to safeguard the land and preserve the potential for future development.

Strategic Land and Development - Laying the legal foundations for commercial success

The delivery of new homes across England and Wales is clear to see, and the demand for new deliverable sites remains highly competitive. In this article we explore the commercial drivers behind development and the importance of accommodating evolving policy, market forces and public funding and delivery requirements. We also consider the preliminary stages of a development project and the overarching considerations for a successful Development Agreement.

Strategic Land Podcast

Our latest More Than Law podcast features our cross-departmental strategic land team, with host Miri Stickland talking to Partners Christopher Findley and Henry Cecil from the Rural Property team, Commercial Real Estate partner Ben Brayford and Planning partner Victoria Du Croz. Discussion points include what we mean by “strategic land”, who are the key parties and their particular drivers and concerns, and the key components needed for a successful strategic land development.

Podcast: Strategic Land - listening to a podcast on a mobile phone

Our Insights

“Forsters LLP has long been considered a market leader in the real estate disputes sector, well able to hold its own against the big hitting City firms.”
The Legal 500 UK, 2023