George Simpson is a Partner at Fisher German and Head of Infrastructure Consultancy, a department providing a wide range of property consultancy services to utilities and infrastructure businesses across the UK. As Fisher German’s leading expert on water, George explores the changes which are driving the market and the investments required to meet changing legislation.
Across the UK the water market consists of 10 major water and waste water companies, and a further 15 smaller water only companies. At Fisher German, we work closely with many of these businesses to manage and maintain their assets and land, and keep pace with legislative changes affecting their operations.
Our clients expect us to not only have a deep understanding of their individual requirements, but also broad knowledge of the wider market. To give our clients the best possible experience, we therefore take a dual approach to client delivery with a key account manager looking after the client’s best interests, and a market expert like myself who is responsible for understanding the wider impacts of regulation, sustainability and the market as a whole. By investing in each market we are able to share our knowledge and improve and refine our processes, delivering an even more efficient and high-quality service to the client and, in turn, this is generating more opportunities for the business.
We have been working in the water sector for decades and we pride ourselves on developing strong relationships, something that is a hugely important part of our service. Often the work we do – such as acquiring land rights and planning consent to build and maintain assets – can be very emotive, especially when it impacts on an individual’s property. It’s our job to bridge the gap between the landowner and the client, forging positive relationships with both sides kept well-informed throughout the process, so that both the initial work and any future maintenance can take place.
It is this high-quality service delivery on a very personal level which has resulted in us winning a number of key contracts in the water industry. Around 12 months ago we began working for Anglian Water for first time and we have recently won tenders for United Utilities and Southern Water.
Water companies are currently managing large-scale capital projects far exceeding anything they have done in recent history. This is being driven by a number of factors, not least the need for our water infrastructure to be sustainable and long-lasting, so generations to come will benefit from the improvements we make today. However, like many other industries the water sector is facing a skills gap to meet the high demands of these investment projects and there are opportunities across the industry for a variety of skill sets to be a part of this transformation.
At Fisher German, we have seen our specialist teams double in size in recent years and are always on the lookout for additional motivated individuals who are excited to be part of projects which are changing the shape of infrastructure across the UK. Many of our surveyors have previously worked in rural and commercial backgrounds and have found the transition into utilities & infrastructure adds more variety to their experience and the opportunity to work with some of the UK’s biggest household names.
We are happy to speak to anyone with the right mindset and values who is interested in pursuing a career in infrastructure services. We find at Fisher German the vast majority of surveyors who work in utilities never turn back and go on to have very successful careers working across a variety of infrastructure projects or specialising, as I have, in a particular area of the market.
Building sustainable infrastructure
In my view, working in the water sector has never been so exciting. Water and waste water companies are building more and doing more than ever before, not just in relation to their core industry of water and the treatment of waste but also enhancing the natural environment.
This focus on the environment is something that regulator OFWAT is driving, so it’s become an expectation that water companies should be leading in this area. They have a vested interest because their commodity (water) is sourced from, and ultimately ends up in, the rivers and waterways, so it is in their best interests to enhance these. It then makes their job easier when it comes to providing clean water as there’s less treatment which, in turn, reduces power and plant requirements and therefore carbon emissions. This all involves property in one form or another, which creates a unique opportunity for our teams to get involved with the wider impact of the environment.
One of the largest challenges facing water companies will be how they source land required for biodiversity net gain as part of any planning consent which forms part of the proposed Environment Bill. For those unfamiliar with this legislation, it requires us to leave biodiversity (flora & fauna) in a better state than before works commence, with a minimum 10 per cent net gain.
In a recent Fisher German survey, most water company respondents indicated that they are focusing initially on their substantial land holdings to meet these needs. However, those land holdings are a finite resource so it is clear that they will need to be supplemented by acquiring additional land, rights in land or land management schemes particularly if, as I believe is likely to eventually be the case, biodiversity net gain requirements also apply to development on third party-owned land.
Collaboration with farmers and landowners
We strongly believe farmers and landowners are in an ideal position to supply this land and increasing collaboration between water companies and farming businesses can only produce benefits for both sides. In fact, many farmers are already working together with water companies on river catchment improvement schemes. These work by supporting farming businesses in river catchments to undertake improvement works such as fencing off rivers, removing drinking points in favour of troughs, and funding annual management actions such as planting cover crops to improve soil structure or undersowing maize with grass to reduce run off, all of which will improve water quality. Farmers also benefit from improved compliance and greater efficiency as soils improve and nutrients are retained.
Sourcing land may seem like a time consuming and complex process, which is why we have developed a new tool for landowners and land seekers called The Green Offset, to make this process quick and simple. By filling out a form online you can register your interest, free of charge, in finding land for any environmental requirements, and any landowners who feel able to meet these can get in touch with you to discuss the opportunity available.
We are already working with a number of both landowners and developers, and it is certainly a platform which could support water companies to meet their environmental requirements.
For more information about The Green Offset, visit greenoffset.co.uk. Or if you are interested in discussing career opportunities in this exciting area of work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.