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What Strategic Land Investors Need To Know About Water And House Building In The Uk

By Author: Bradley Weiss
Total Articles: 139

Rain is nothing new to England. But the rate at which it falls may be. To both homebuyers and homebuilders – which include urban planners and investors such as those working through real asset funds – this is becoming an increasingly critical consideration.

Why? Climate change may well be a factor in the floods that inundated parts of the UK in the winter of 2013-2014. A study out of Oxford University reported in The Guardian (April 2014) indicates that “far more frequent severe floods for residents of the crowded region, with what were once extremely rare events [are] now happening much more often than the infrastructure of the region is equipped for.”

This comes at a time when building new homes is critical to the country. More homes mean more roads, more parking lots and more roofs, factors that prevent natural absorption of rainwater. But urban planners, landscape architects, municipalities and builders are responding appropriately. They are demonstrating that communities and homes can be designed to mitigate stormwater and the damage it can cause.

For example, on both a per-home and broader community basis, techniques to channel stormwater toward natural infiltration of water to the aquifer include rain gardens and bioswales. The UK engineering firm HR Wallingford, an environmental hydraulics organisation, has done extensive work with soakaways, trenches and basins that comprise infiltration design. The firm also performs runoff and stormwater storage analyses and builds rainwater-harvesting systems that clients can use to save water for landscaping and other non-potable uses in drier time periods.

These kinds of tools break the 20th century development paradigm that most typically channelled storm water through grey infrastructure, concrete and metal pipes that ushered water away from homes and businesses to natural streams and rivers or to municipal treatment facilities. Experience shows those systems are inadequate in heavy precipitation and with growing populations.

For the development investor, such as those working through real asset fund managers, this can sometimes translate into higher development costs. And sometimes not – every site is unique and occasionally a sustainable water-management system can be cheaper than “grey infrastructure” that is based on traditional pipes. But even when the costs are greater, it can translate into more valuable property and lower property insurance costs over the longer term. Calls to the National Flood Forum (NFF) charity tripled by early 2014, a result of the flooding events of the preceding winter. It was not unusual for a homeowner to see a doubling of his or her premiums (e.g., to £2,000/year) while one small business proprietor reported an annual premium rise from £4,000 to £25,000. A smarter design for new-build communities could help avoid that.

Investors who specifically look at UK land investment opportunities for home building need to ask questions about how sustainable the development might be. They should also engage an independent financial advisor to get a better sense of where land development might fit their investment risk profile.

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