Clyde Shanks: Planning consultant reflects on successes
Paul Gosling meets the man who created a company in the depths of recession and who has worked hard to make it thrive ever since
Clyde Shanks is celebrating two years in business as a planning consultant, based in the centre of Belfast. Having established as a sole practitioner, he now has a team of six qualified planning consultants. "I started in a recession and we have expanded by targeting growth markets, after the previous core markets slowed," he said.
"We have been able to target markets where there has been growth. Primarily this has been renewable energy and waste schemes. We have focused on commercial wind farms and individual turbines for large electricity users, including large food producers and large industrial energy users, and for land owners as well. We have been working with commercial organisations that have been installing a large number of individual turbines all over Northern Ireland."
So successful has the firm been as specialists in the wind turbine sector that it calculates that more than 200 megawatts of onshore wind generated electricity proposals have so far been approved through its involvement, or are in the process of being approved.
In addition, Clyde Shanks has been working with several land owners to work up proposals for anaerobic digestion (the process of biodegrading organic materials to produce heat), with nearly 20 schemes now in the planning system, or already approved. The firm has also become a specialist in getting approval for In Vessel Composting (IVC) schemes that process organic waste in to high quality garden compost.
"We are involved in a whole range of different types of waste projects," Mr Shanks said. The largest is the £240m Arc 21 energy from a waste project at Hightown Quarry. This will sort Belfast's waste in to recyclable and non-recyclable material, with the non-recyclable items being incinerated to produce energy. Mr Shanks said this involved the most comprehensive pre-application consultation exercise ever conducted in Northern Ireland.
Much of the success of the business is down to its reputation for problem-solving, said Mr Shanks. "Some clients have huge problems and need people to articulate their case within the planning process and to get a positive decision. We are very proactive and we understand what clients need to do and how to resolve enforcement issues."
The firm has also been very effective, said Mr Shanks, in dealing with environmental legislation and the requirements these impose on developers, including the management of the preparation of environmental statements.
But there are also now positive signs in the core market for planning consultants – residential construction. "In the last six weeks we have seen more instructions in the residential market than there have been in the last couple of years," said Mr Shanks. These include an important residential scheme on the Dublin Road in Belfast for the Gary McCausland-led Richland Group.
Mr Shanks said that banks and company receivers are beginning to be optimistic that the residential market is on the cusp of recovery and are looking to build or complete construction on sites that had been abandoned during the recession. In some instances planning approvals have lapsed, so new applications need to be submitted. Other schemes that had been approved for apartment developments will need to be altered to gain permission for low-cost houses, reflecting the changed demand in the residential market.
"A little more liquidity has come back in to the system," Mr Shanks said. "So banks are now looking at the best sites to fund to move them on."
Those signs of improvement in market conditions will clearly benefit Clyde Shanks.
The firm that was established in the recession is now poised to expand even further as the economy recovers.