Barratt looking to build links with GM planners

HOUSING developer Barratt has launched a charm offensive to forge closer links to the key planning authorities in Greater Manchester.

Regional managing director Barratt Developments (Central region), which includes the North West, Bernard Rooney, has told The Business Desk the company has engaged a lobbyist to help build a relationship with the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA).

Barratt’s key concern is to unlock development potential in the city region and explore the possible relaxation of certain green belt areas.

“As a developer we are seeking to get a meeting with AGMA and talk about our concerns,” said Rooney, who has worked for Barratt since the early 1980s. “ We are using a lobbyist to try to get us in there. We’ve got lots of interest in and around the North West – including the Bolton, Bury and Trafford.

“We know they look at the green belt. But the issue is one authority won’t act without AGMA. They accept that they need to review the green belt, but by the time they get round to it, it could be too late.

“We are using an intermediary because if  you listen to some of the leadership of councils, they don’t have much time for national house builders.

“We have a programme right across the country of improving our relationships with local authorities.

“It is paying dividends. We do get our fair share of planning consents. Some authorities are being quite welcoming, but we see the North West and Greater Manhcester as an area where we can impove.”

Barratt currently has planning consent for 1,300 homes across Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Staffordshire. Those homes have gross development value of £280m.

Across the country, Barratt is building 15% of the 120,000 homes under construction is it continues an ongoing strategy to change an image which has pervaded since the 1970s and 80s.

“There were issues about quality, about the Barratt box,” explained Rooney. “When you listen to people today, they still talk about the marketing machine that Barratt became.

“Barratt became the first house builder to actually go down the marketing route in a big way. Some people still  associate us with the helicopter, box building, and the timber frame.

“But the people who are referring to those issues weren’t born when this was happening in the early 1980s. It’s our generation that have stigmatised the Barratt name.

“We started the journey to change to image of the company in the early 1990s, after the property crash of 1990-1 and the recession. We launched and initiative called ‘forward through quality’ and the whole ambition was to improve the quality of everything we did.”

Rooney points to the appointment of Mark Clare as chief executive of the business in 2006 – the same year it acquired David Wilson Homes – as key moment in the Barratt transformation. Although he stepped down in March this year, he is credited with the developer’s progressive metamorphosis.

“Our business today is unrecognisable,” said Rooney. “It was his vision for the business and he was backed up by the plc board.

“I’m not proud to say it, but I worked for an organisation in the 1980s that just wanted its money and off we went.

“Now, it’s all about community and creating a legacy. Every one of our schemes now has to meet the Design Council Code ‘Built for Life’ standards. We’re the only developer to sign up to that.”

Rooney said that the company, which employs 800 people directly in the North West, supporting up to 6,000 other jobs, lost a few people during its transition.

“We lost them because they couldn’t buy into the changes – the change in culture,” he said. “They were probably the management of tomorrow but they found they got an easier life with our competitors.

“Our cultural shift has meant we’re demanding more of our people. We think our reward recognises that.”