Strategic rural land is an area where we have extensive experience and a thriving network, and where our expertise can deliver improved yields and lower costs.

Strategic land plays a key role in our portfolio. Against the backdrop of a more encouraging planning environment, we work hard to identify sites suitable for development. Our own knowledge lies at the heart of our competitive advantage in this area, but so too do our close relationships with national and regional housebuilders, land agents and land owners.

Opportunities to acquire sites with significant potential are rare and much sought after, but through our extensive networks we are now seeing them ahead of others. We have transformed our reputation as a buyer and are respected industry-wide as an organisation that works fast but fairly.

During the last financial year, sales from the strategic land portfolio realised more than £11 million, and we expect to see continuing strong performance ahead. Sales included a site with planning permission for 54 new homes at Dunster and one at Skirlaugh in Yorkshire which will deliver 87 houses, 15 per cent of which will be affordable properties. We also disposed of Westwick Farm in Hemel Hempstead and a parcel of land in Fochabers.

At a regional level, development land prices mirror the housing market. We look across the board but with a greater emphasis on areas characterised by high demand, specifically sites close to urban areas in the south of England. The year saw us acquire a number of greenfield sites, including 96 acres at Luton together with land forming part of a mixed-use extension comprising 650 houses at Axminster in Devon.

We continue to actively promote our strategic rural land through the planning system, culminating in outline planning permissions being secured for residential and commercial uses on a number of sites in 2014. Consent was secured for 180 homes in Delamere, Cheshire and for 230 homes in Devizes, Wiltshire. In addition, urban extensions at Thetford and Northampton, where we hold a part share of the freeholds, await planning permission. Combined, these urban extensions will deliver 7,000 homes as well as significant areas of employment land with the associated financial and environmental benefits.

Our aim at each strategic site is to deliver a commercially viable scheme that will be an attractive place to live, work and play. When selecting a developer partner we pay particular regard to the developer’s sustainability credentials, quality of design and community approach, in addition to their financial offer.