Advising a university on a multi-million-pound campus sale

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What was the challenge?

Our client, the University of South Wales (USW), is one of the largest universities in Wales. It offers an extensive range of vocational and degree courses, with campuses in Cardiff, as well as Newport, Pontypridd, and Dubai.

In 2018, the university submitted a planning application to redevelop buildings on its historic Caerleon Campus – a 33-acre site used as a campus until 2016, and which forms part of the filming location of Netflix’s Sex Education. But these plans were rejected by Newport council on the grounds of traffic, air quality, and amenity reasons.

That’s when USW asked us to help them appeal this decision, and to advise on lodging a new application (in parallel) for residential development (this time including social housing dwellings) so that it could sell the campus.

How did we help?

Our longstanding relationship with USW, which we regularly advise on a wide range of legal issues, means we were able to quickly develop a bespoke strategy. Because we understand its financial and strategic aims, as well as its duties as a charitable organisation, we could strategically advise the university on risks and challenges throughout the appeal and application process.

We didn’t just present the university with a list of options; we recommended the best way forward. From a legal point of view, of course, but also taking into consideration financial, environmental, and reputational factors – given the controversy around the scheme.

Our collaborative approach and in-depth analysis of legal and sector-specific issues – including planning and environmental law, determination of planning applications, consents, and conditions, s106 agreements, planning appeals, contaminated land, building regulations, judicial review, and rights of way – was vital to the success of the new application.

We then helped USW to secure the unconditional multi-million-pound sale of its campus, after working through exclusivity arrangements with the purchaser – Redrow Homes Limited.

What was the outcome?

In July 2019, the successful sale of its Caerleon Campus for £6.2m provided USW with significant income, while preserving the site’s heritage assets. Redrow has indeed committed to preserving the façade of the iconic main building and the former rugby pitch, which will be repurposed to provide open space.

In January 2021, it was then confirmed that Redrow had been granted planning permission to develop 219 homes. Initial demolition work is now expected to start on-site imminently, with the first homes available for sale later this year.

Leanne O’Brien, Partner at Capital Law, said:

It’s great to now see Redrow’s plans for the revised scheme falling into place, and that the historic buildings on site will be retained as part of those plans.

Simon Chiffi, Director of Estates at University of South Wales, said:

Its always very easy to criticise but we less often send credit where due!

Capital Law’s approach in managing our Commercial Property matters has been a breath of fresh air and I am grateful to your close attention to all matters and support in getting us through significant challenges over the last few weeks. Your technical and professional strength was never in doubt but the most valuable thing to me and USW has been your personable and pragmatic approach to managing us and problem solving

Do you need strategic real estate advice?

Whether you’re looking for advice on how to secure planning permission, navigate through environmental issues, redevelop buildings, or maximise the value of your land, we can help. Visit our real estate page to find out more.