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Globe Trotters via Property

Property entrepreneur Bronwen Vearncombe talk with Richard Bowser

Give up the day job, you can ‘build a dream life’, is a mantra that many aspiring property investors abide by and without a doubt, it is doable. And yet for a variety of reasons, many who start out on the road to ‘financial freedom’ with the best of intentions fail, often because they do not have the tenacity to overcome the many hurdles that property investing and development can bring.

Some five years ago I interviewed the south-coast based Bronwen Vearncombe and her husband John about a complex development they had just completed and we have kept in touch. When I heard about their recent property development exploits I thought it was time for readers to learn more from a couple who are clearly putting theory into practice.
Their journey in property has taken them from initially doing simple buy to lets onto a current portfolio of HMOs and now four large properties which are operated as short stay accommodation.

Back in late 2015 the couple had acquired a former working men’s club in Andover and became embroiled in a lengthy planning permission battle, having acquired the site on an unconditional basis which as Bronwen admitted is a bit of a risk.

“We had checked out with a number of experienced operators in our network and the consensus was that we would get planning for something on this site. We bought the site from the Receiver and it had been on the market for a while, but not really promoted. It had quite a large footprint and we felt it was a great opportunity. We put it in for planning permission, however we and our planning consultant had not realised that there was a clause in the Local Plan which meant that commercial buildings providing community facilities could not be converted. It was deemed an asset of value to the community, despite the fact that it had been empty for a number of years and was in a dilapidated condition.

“I had spoken to a number of planning experts who were surprised as to why this stance was being taken by the LPA and it was clear that perhaps other factors were involved of which we were unaware. The local council were quite supportive and we had consulted with the neighbours so it was all a bit strange.  

“The site is close to the town centre in Andover so in theory as far as the planners were concerned there were potential options for alternative uses apart from our residential scheme. Our initial proposal was for conversion of the existing building into a nursery and to then build some additional houses adjacent to one of the two roads to which the site abuts.
“We had a nursery operator already lined up to buy the building from us for £500,000, and we would then build the houses on the remaining land. Unfortunately planning was denied and the nursing operator pulled out, so we had to assess the alternatives. We had done a lot of research on possible uses and felt this was a viable scheme but it was turned down. There were no real objections from the local community following an open day where we laid our plans out.”

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