Depending on the location, lower end sites are currently affordable and abundant, while ideal plots are there for those willing to pay the price, according to Jacob Vince, director at Caxtons Chartered Surveyors.
“There are a lot of good opportunities out there,” says Vince. “This is because of the general weakness that the automotive industry is currently facing.”
Leasehold rather than freehold sites have been enjoying a boom. Vince believes this is due to the fact that returns on investment in the automotive industry have not been as good as they once were. “The difficulty is finding them at the right affordable level for the client,” he says.
Ideal, high specification locations such as those on prominent industrial, business or retail estates can be harder to find, whether they are leasehold or freehold, especially in conservation areas or cities where land is at a premium.
“For example, we were looking for a site in Ascot. It took us three months to find somewhere short-term,” he says. “To find a long-term site took us two years and in the end we had to go for one in nearby Bracknell. It all depends on how much the client is willing to pay.”
Besides finding a suitable site, another hurdle to overcome is planning permission. “This is often difficult for automotive retail sites,” says Vince. “Local authorities are often not keen on the motor trade. It’s not exactly an environmentally friendly industry.
“Local authorities also vary widely on their efficiency in dealing with applications.”
Andrew Ilsley, director of Robert Stephens & Co, says that a further problem facing automotive dealers is that local authorities do not view such businesses as employment generating ones.
“But this isn’t true. There are the workshop, showroom and office elements to consider, so if needs be you can construct a good argument that the build is genuinely employment generating.”