B4 Property Day. A view from Carter Jonas Oxford, Partner and Head, Steven Sensecall

Because of the timing and focus of this feature, it seems right to discuss the pandemic – in the context of what we do. Like many other businesses in our network, we have been working hard to advise and support our clients effectively whilst reassuring them that, despite the unprecedented circumstances in which we are all operating, we are here and available.

I have been amazed by how many firms from across Oxfordshire’s business community have persevered to work towards our collective goals of ensuring that the city and region continue to prosper.

There are numerous examples that I could use to illustrate this type of teamwork and collaborative spirit. Perhaps one of the best is demonstrable by the progression of the UK’s Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) at Harwell Campus. Our Oxford planning team has been involved with this scheme from the outset. Under normal circumstances, planning approval and construction for a new development of this scale would take years, with building beginning only when planning permission had been granted. Due to COVID-19, and VMIC’s national and international significance, Vale of White Horse District Council took a unique approach, fast-tracking the application process. This meant that much of the planning work that Carter Jonas was doing behind the scenes was carried out simultaneously with construction work.

Cooperation was key to securing the planning permission. Despite remote working conditions, council officers significantly increased the number of meetings they would typically hold for this size of project with all of the major participants including VMIC, Harwell Campus Management, the project managers, Glencar Construction, the main construction company, and the agency funding VMIC, UK Research and Innovation. Greater contact with statutory consultees, the local parish council and the ward councillor ensured consultation processes were adhered to and queries responded to swiftly.

The result shows the sheer determination and hard work of the community of people involved in this ground-breaking project. The circumstances under which we have been operating have been exceptional. However, we have worked closely with the Vale of the White Horse District Council, the Harwell team, principal stakeholders and contractors to embrace new technologies, strategies and procedures to accomplish a thorough consultation process and reach a successful outcome. We are extremely proud to have played a role in supporting its delivery. It has been an amazing project to work on, and, as I said at the outset, it is a terrific example of how numerous parties have pulled together over the last nine months to keep things moving.

It is an understatement to say that the current situation is challenging. As businesses grapple with planning for their future, against a backdrop of much uncertainty and in a climate that is constantly evolving, few issues will be easy to determine. However, there are solutions. Whether you have a pressing concern or are trying to understand how your business may be affected, do keep asking questions and talking to people who can help. If you would like to discuss any of your property needs, Carter Jonas’s commercial, planning, development, residential and rural teams are here to help.

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