Consensus Capital looks south of Border

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Consensus Capital Property, the private equity-backed investment firm, has launched plans to build 1,500 social housing units in England as newly-relaxed planning rules go into force south of the Border this month.

The property division is part of Edinburgh-based Consensus Capital, which recently launched a £50 million fund to change office blocks into social housing in Perth and Edinburgh.

The firm has since focused on the opportunity in England as the change in rules make it easier for developers to convert disused office buildings into residential use.

The planning changes, which come go force on 30 May, remove the requirement for developers to apply for planning permission.

Andrew Montague, managing director of Consensus Capital Property, said: “England’s high streets have suffered enormously over the last five years and, at the same time, there is a serious shortage of homes in the affordable rented sector.

“The planning changes coming into force at the end of May are very good news for social landlords who are facing significant demand from people who need access to affordable homes.

“We believe our model has the potential to catalyse activity around new areas of affordable residential homes, by creating jobs, introducing new demand for local amenities such as retail units, convenience stores, cafes, childcare and healthcare facilities – the benefits could be significant.

“The country desperately needs something to put real impetus behind the recovery, and we think this approach could play some part in achieving that.”

Consensus Capital Property is currently in talks with several English local authorities about the prospect of acquiring vacant, and in some cases derelict, property to begin the conversion process.

Planners have raised concerns that the easing of the rules in England risk accelerating the arrival of a two-speed planning system north and south of the Border.

Tony Aitken, head of planning at property agency Colliers International, said the three-year scheme to relax planning restrictions was a boost for developers as well as housebuyers in an era when residential building has fallen to record low levels.

He said: “England seems to be going about it in a more imaginative way than we are. There is nothing that different happening here.”

Consensus’ first project has begun in Perth, where the investor is turning a former office block at 1-3 Water Vennel into 18 flats for Caledonia Housing Association.

Two further projects, in Edinburgh, have also received planning permission.

The venture was founded by Consensus Capital chief executive, Mark Emlick, who sold his previous business, independent financial advice firm Dunedin Independent, to Zurich-based Helvetia Wealth in 2010 in a deal thought to be worth £4m.