Looking back at the last 30 years of Oakley Property: Southdowns Park in Lewes

4th April 2023

To mark our 30th Anniversary I am looking back over the years at some of our landmark deals.
Never let it be said that we don’t understand the value of recycling!
Looking back, the trail of bringing our stunning development at Southdowns Park in Lewes to fruition with River Oak Homes, is one of our more interesting tails, which I hope demonstrates our perseverance in seeing something successfully through to the end.
The 3-acre site started life as a household waste tip, and its hard to believe that this area in Brooks Road was once a household waste site, located so close to the beautiful town centre of Lewes and the River Ouse. However, this is not where my recycling analogy comes from. Since our first involvement with the site, we have re-sold it 7 times!
Back in the early 1980’s Ladbrokes decided it would be an excellent idea for them to get into industrial development. They brought a large part of the Malling Brooks area of Lewes in a JV with Wyncote Developments. This plot never got developed, and it was felt in the mid-1990s that it would never be viable to develop, so Wyncote brought out the site from Ladbrokes, who at the time was making a rapid stage left exit, for only £1!
We then acquired the site from Wyncote for a client in the later 1990s for £250k because we thought, "There must be something we can do with it", despite very difficult ground conditions. We quickly decided we were best off selling the site on, and it then went through various hands at £400k, £750k, and £900k. Then it was sold to one of our astute clients who saw the potential to challenge the Local Plan and argue that enabling housing was the only way to deliver employment space.
This, which is now a well-trodden path, was inciteful in the early noughties. Planning was secured for 125 apartments and 50,000 sq ft of employment space, and we sold the site for £8m. One very happy client, although on reflection, not a very deliverable scheme!
However, the 2008 financial crisis came, and the purchasing developer was foreclosed upon, although at one point, I had an offer of £14m, which they wouldn’t take as they thought they could get more (a lesson in there somewhere!). The site went into NAMA The Irish Debt Recovery Agency which instructed us to sell it again in 2011 when River Oak Homes acquired the site for £2.5m.
Since then, we have worked as advisors to River Oak; and secured consent through the South Downs National Park Planning Authority for the 101 fabulous houses and apartments that are now halfway through construction. We also presented a strong viability case and negotiated the affordable and employment element of the scheme down to 5 apartment units and 2,000 sq ft of employment space.
So, this one was quite a journey for us. It demonstrates how long a site can take to come to fruition and that recycling land in the spirit of the NPPF is truly the right thing to do, although I am not sure they mean repeat sales commissions!


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