Land For Sale News : Greenbelt Land for sale


Builder looks to exploitation of greenbelt land for housing

THE head of Miller Group, which yesterday reported a near- threefold rise in profits on continuing activities, has called for more greenbelt land to be released into development as part of a strategy to relieve housing shortages in the UK.

    Keith Miller, chief executive of the privately-owned construction group, said changing demographics would lead to demand for housing outstripping supply in many areas by 2011. This is being driven by both an ageing population and an expected 25% rise in single-person households during the next 10 years.

    While welcoming recently-announced government plans to make available more brownfield sites - developed areas that are now disused - Miller said this would not be enough to meet anticipated demand.

    "I believe it is the housebuilding industry's role to work with government to address this situation, but this will inevitably mean releasing greenbelt
land in selected areas, and speeding up planning processes," he said.

    These factors are driving the increase in housing prices across the UK, and are part of the reason the Edinburgh-based group's average selling price rose 20% to (pounds) 125,000 during the six months to June 30. Miller predicted inflationary pressures would continue in the second half of the year, although at a slower rate than before.

    Housing contributed the largest proportion to Miller Group's operating profits during the half year, rising 37% to (pounds) 7.8m. This was followed by the property division, whose retail, office and mixed-use portfolio contributed
(pounds) 6.3m at the operating level.

    Excluding an exceptional gain on the disposals of its civil engineering and mining businesses - which were sold in two separate deals in the first part of 2001 - group pre-tax profits in the first half of this year were 19% higher at
(pounds) 7.5m. On a like-for-like basis that discounts profits from the two businesses sold, the pre-tax figure was up by 142%.

    Civil engineering and mining were formerly part of Miller Group's construction services division, which now concentrates on public-private partnerships (PPP) and the building of large-scale facilities for chains such as Sainsbury and Safeway.

    Miller said the PPP business had continued to expand during the half-year by winning its first English schools contract, a (pounds) 55m project in Tower Hamlets, London. The construction of PPP schools in Glasgow is almost complete, with 28 buildings handed over, while work is under way on 12 schools in Edinburgh as part of that city's (pounds) 360m PPP education project.

    The order book in construction services was up 19% at (pounds) 280m, while forward sales in the housing division were 10% ahead at 1650 units. By the end of August, the housing figure had risen further to 1803 units, representing 94% of year-end target sales.

    Miller said unless more land was made available for housing, it was likely that prices in some areas would rise to the point that many people could not afford to live there. This is particularly a threat in parts of the south of England, and brings additional issues to the fore.

    "A sustainable housing policy should recognise that forcing people to live far away from their place of work increases the pressure on the transportation network and comes at a price to the environment too," he said.

GRAPHIC: HARD CHOICE: Keith Miller, foreground, and John Richards, finance director, feel environmental considerations must bow to the market for housing.
Picture: Mike Wilkinson

BYLINE: Kristy Dorsey


Millionaire dubbed a green belt bully: Phones4U owner laughs off claim he coerced staff to back building of luxury homes

Millionaire John Caudwell, the flamboyant owner of the Phones4U chain of mobile phone shops, was yesterday accused of bullying staff to back his plans to build lucrative executive homes on greenbelt land.

    Mr Caudwell, 49, who ranks as Britain's 33rd richest man, sent an email to managers asking them to support his bid to develop 80 homes priced up to pounds 500,000 on land he owns on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent. The council has published a document saying the land should be protected, but Mr Caudwell told workers they should back his plans for a "high quality residential development" overlooking the river Trent.

    He said in the email: "It would be of great advantage to me if as many of you as possible would fill in the attached form, making representation in support of the plan."

    He points out the arrival of luxury homes in the area would also be of "great interest" to managers and lists four key benefits of the scheme to mention when they fill in the council form - which is attached to the email. A box on the form asking if the individual was an objector or supporter was conveniently ticked showing support. Forms are directed to Mr Caudwell's personal assistant before being sent on to the council.

    The Caudwell Group is a collection of seven companies that include Phones4U, The Discovery, a chain of gadget shops, and Singlepoint, a Vodafone airtime reseller. Mr Caudwell's 97% stake was recently valued at pounds 770m.

    He employs more than 5,000 staff, mainly in a series of call centres, based in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle under Lyme in Staffordshire.

    One manager, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "It's an absolute outrage for him to coerce his staff into signing such a document for his own personal gain and at the expense of a beautiful piece of greenbelt land."

    Jan Zablocki, local organiser for the Communications Workers Union, said he was unsurprised by the move which he believed was "in character".

    "John Caudwell has got to where he is by exploiting his staff and customers. His call centre environments are poor and he sets high performance targets which staff must reach with virtually no support."

    Mr Caudwell is no stranger to controversy. Last year he received a deluge of complaints from Singlepoint customers who claimed call centre staff adopted underhand tactics to renew annual contracts.

    At the time Mr Caudwell said the customers were victims of errant staff and poor computer systems that were in the process of being upgraded. However, workers who contacted the Guardian supported union claims that they were under intense pressure to keep customers from defecting to other suppliers, admitting that they often resorted to threats and coercion.

    Yesterday Mr Caudwell was unrepentent, saying it was laughable that he could coerce his highly paid managers into supporting his scheme. He also rejected claims he was deliberately distorting the local planning process. "There is no question of me controlling the process. I only looked at two or three letters before they were sent off. This is not an important issue, I only think we could make a change that would be good for the city. If the councillors look at the scheme and reject it, so be it."

    He said he put forward the plan to enhance the local economy following a suggestion by a local property consultant. "Stoke came somewhere near the bottom of the league in the most desirable places to live and one of the main reasons is the lack of executive housing. Many of the managers here have found it difficult to find suitable properties near to work and end up commuting 90 miles.

    "There are lots of brownfield sites in Stoke, but they are not suitable for building executive homes. It needs to be surrounded by fields. It needs to be on greenbelt land. That's what executives want."

    A spokesman for Staffordshire County Council said: "It is unusual for a landowner to solicit support in this way, though not illegal. From this point the application will be subject to consultation and then will go before councillors. What their reaction will be I cannot say."

BYLINE: Phillip Inman

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