With the Rio Olympics almost upon us, it’s worth remembering that the London Games were a shining example of British planning and development teams pulling together on a huge scale. It’s a spirit that needs to be rekindled on future projects

Richard McCarthy

I have written before about the need to get Britain planning. Our planning system is both admired and renowned for being slow. No matter how well it has been designed the reality is that getting planning consent can often take too long and involve too much uncertainty and cost. We have become too tolerant of delays, because they are expected.

The 2015 Annual Planning Survey published by GL Hearn, and in partnership with the British Property Federation, pointed to a “planning system on the brink”. Half of planning authorities surveyed said they believed the current planning environment was not operating as well as it was five years ago. A number of cities across England are now taking well over six months to determine major new applications and the effects of this uncertainty for developers and the industry are obvious.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We have an outstanding recent example to draw on which showcases just how much can be achieved when all parts of Britain’s planning and development world pull together to deliver major developments when they have an absolute, cast iron deadline by which they have to be completed – London 2012. With Rio just around the corner, now is a good time to reflect on our success story.

What we need is an Olympics mentality. London 2012 was a huge feat of delivery across the planning and construction stages – not just in five London boroughs but at sites up and down the country. Faced with either getting the job done or causing a major international embarrassment, it’s heartening to see what can be achieved.

The London boroughs of Newham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham, and Waltham Forest set aside their differing priorities and pulled together to approve the masterplan on time, and they deserve huge credit for that (and ministers for giving that backing). Then the whole process of delivery was carried through with both the private and public sectors working hand in hand to get the job done.

The Games instilled a sense of ownership and leadership for everyone responsible at every stage. Nobody wanted to be the person who said it can’t be done on time

The Games instilled a sense of ownership and leadership for everyone responsible at every stage. Failure simply didn’t enter into the lexicon, and no one wanted to be the person who said it can’t be done on time. Whether it was being on site, completing, getting permission – everyone felt the pressure to make sure nothing slipped.

Clearly setting a hard-and-fast deadline for all development isn’t always going to be practicable or sensible. Furthermore, not every scheme will offer the same reputational risk as, say, building an Olympic stadium or designing a new velodrome while the world is watching.

However, there are clear lessons and best practice from the 2012 Games. The Olympic Delivery Authority had to ensure all parties working on the construction project – and there were thousands – were all pulling in the same direction with the same goals.

Essentially, everyone delivering a part of the major project was engaged early in the process, and the right conditions were created for them to achieve a successful outcome. If we needed to come up with innovative ways to get the job done, we did: for example delegated powers and some locally controlled contingency funding.

There’s absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t be the case with each major development project in the country. We are already seeing it with Crossrail and the signs are HS2 will be the same. This will not only bring stability, confidence in the process, and increased investment, it will free up development and create more capacity to get planning moving.

Conveniently, and with the great and the good of the property world gathered in Mipim next week, this leads me on nicely to the launch of Capita Real Estate following the integration of GL Hearn.

The UK property industry is constantly debating why it is so difficult to move from investment to plans to getting projects out of the ground. There are many issues – but one of them is a disjointed consultancy industry that cannot offer clients a seamless process.

We are aiming to bring a little bit of this Olympic mentality to all of Capita Real Estate’s work. The new proposition brings together expertise in real estate investment, development and debt, which means we can speed up execution, reduce risks and improve cost effectiveness across the entire real estate life cycle. From managing investment vehicles to establishing corporate holding structures, to the full suite of development services.

This is a step away from delays and difficulties, and a move towards the pragmatic and dynamic approach that saw us deliver one of the most complex project we as an industry have faced.

We all know that we can do better. Just think how much can be achieved over the next seven years if we work together in the same manner that we did between winning the Games in 2005 and delivering them in the summer of 2012. It is time for Team GB to take the lead.

Richard McCarthy is executive director for central government at Capita