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April 9, 2015

Matthew Samuel-Camps, Vail Williams CEOMatthew Samuel-Camps, CEO

With opinion polls so close, it is difficult to predict the outcome of polling on May 7. What is almost certain is that we are likely to see another coalition government, which - as we have seen in recent history - makes manifesto promises almost worthless when new proposals are designed and ratified by cross-party influence.

According to property consultancy Vail Williams, the traditional focus from Government on residential development for new homes can be too short-sighted. Residential growth has to be considered alongside such factors as infrastructure and employment.

The gradually improving economic climate is leading to an acute shortage of prime quality commercial accommodation as demand from occupiers increases and availability - which has been constrained by a lack of new development activity - quickly reduces. While this is leading to higher values and rising rents, the greatest impact is in very limited or even no choice for for those businesses looking to expand, stifling their growth and in turn, impacting on national economic growth and prosperity.

Businesses need fit for purpose accommodation, well located for transport and their employees; a continued failure to invest holistically in both our infrastructure, and to facilitate new commercial development in the right locations, could see businesses struggling to fully exploit their potential, to the detriment of our economy. Vail Williams' experts call on the next government with a number of core considerations:

Transport - in addition to maintaining commitment to HS2 and the excitement about Crossrail, our desire is for continued investment in the major road network through smart motorways. The key motorways through our regions are crippled with congestion at peak times.

Vail Williams wants continued investment to improve the road transport links that support the South East region - A3, M3, M4, M27 and M23 and in the rail network between London, Southampton and Portsmouth, with capacity on the Waterloo-South Coast mainlines being a key issue.

Sustainability - we desire early certainty regarding the implications on the Energy Act 2011 and the unlawful disposal of low energy rated buildings come 2018. The new government should finalise the legislation as soon as possible to allow owners plenty of time to budget and plan improvement works and provide a more compelling 'Green Deal' to speed adoption. We believe that code will be removed, and stringent building regulations will continue.

Permitted development - in the vast majority of our markets, permitted development rights allowing the conversion of offices to residential use has been positively received. The initiative has resulted in the removal of a large amount of functionally and economically obsolescent office stock from the markets, while fulfilling delivery of essential housing stock.

Ability to take advantage of permitted development rights should continue, and on the flip side we believe a further provision should be made for planning consent for sustainable office development close to key transport nodes - in city centres for rail and near motorway junctions for road.

Employment land - having removed a large amount of poor grade office through conversion to residential use, attention must turn to new strategic employment sites. The new employment land should be located close to infrastructure and local authorities encouraged to positively receive proposals given the link to economic development.

Planning delivery - in addition to the presumption in favour of development, it is important for the emerging government to do more to assist with the expedient delivery of development on the ground. This includes looking at ways of speeding up the preparation and engrossment of Section 106 agreements and speed of processing pre-commencement conditions, both of which prevent developments starting on site.

Neighbourhood plans - we are seeing an increase in the formulation of neighbourhood plans. Developers and landowners find it challenging to engage with the process, which in turn can lead to the lack of new housing supply within the local area - we request that clear guidance is provided to those areas progressing a neighbourhood plan and encourage engagement with the developer community.

Green belt is a key electioneering subject given the emotion associated with proposals to build on greenfield sites. Clearer guidance is required from government on what could be considered acceptable, particularly where districts are constrained in their ability to deliver housing and the duty to cooperate between neighbouring authorities is not working.

Flood defences - how different would the election battleground have been with a similar winter to that of 2013/14? Continued investment in flood alleviation and defences is essential to providing certainty to homeowners and businesses alike.

Business rates - the last government committed to reform the current business rates system. The next government now needs to deliver on this promise to ensure fair property taxation, providing:

• Clarity for those who pay rates

• Simplicity for those who charge the rates

• Resource for those who assess ratetable values, so this is carried out correctly in the first place.

Conclusion

Whatever the outcome on the morning of May 8 (or whenever coalition negotiations conclude) there is a need for decisiveness and certainty in support of business, innovation, growth and development to allow the UK to continue to prosper and grow.