On Wednesday 23rd June, Baily Garner hosted a panel discussion as part of the Built Environment Networking Blue Light Estates Development conference.

The session, titled Blue Light Estates Development Plans, had a particular focus on quality in design and construction, recent challenges such as Covid-19 and their impact on strategy and sustainability. The panel was chaired by Associate Partner Sarah Chisholm, with our blue light sector lead, Partner Rob Ireland, taking part as one of the speakers.  

The other speakers at the session were: 

  • Vicki Heselton, Head of Estates and Support Services at Gloucestershire Constabulary 
  • Jon Simpson, Area Manager, Head of Response and Client Lead at West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service 
  • Andy Taylor, Commercial Planning Manager at Sussex and Surrey Police 
  • Cliff Jones, Construction Director at Metropolitan Police 
Sector Updates 

The hour was divided in two with each speaker giving an update on their organisation’s current projects and development plans, followed by a Q&A session on the wider issues affecting development in the sector. 

Alongside giving an insight into some of the projects they are currently working on, some of the key themes discussed by the speakers in their presentations included: the need to replace or refurbish buildings due to their age and outdated layouts/facilities or a change in requirements; the importance of getting the right data and how information is key to investing in the right buildings in the right locations; the sustainability agenda, including targets in the sector to become carbon neutral by 2030; the challenge of budget and providing the right facilities at the right price; the importance of collaboration; and securing funding through Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy. 

Defining Quality and the Challenges to Achieving it 

Leading the Q&A part of the session, Sarah Chisholm began by asking all the panellists what quality means to them. Vicki Heselton’s view was that quality is not just in the finish, but the whole experience of working as a team. It comes from collaborative ways of working and having open and honest communication throughout the duration of a project. Based on his experience in working in a range of sectors, Cliff Jones recognised that the definition of quality can depend on the type of client that you are working with. Specifically within the blue light sector, police forces have their own design guides and a key quality element is ensuring that design is robust and functional, with importance placed on getting the right flow through a building. Andy Taylor said it is about providing a good environment for their staff to work in, which is something that he’s found to be important when updating their facilities from some of the dated properties they have been working in.  

Building on the themes of the earlier presentations, when asked about the challenges to achieving quality, Cliff stated that it often comes down to money and the balance between wanting the best and having the budget to cover it. Rob Ireland then added that getting the priorities of the brief properly defined is key to achieving quality. For example, issues such as fire egress and security can be conflicting in the design process, so it is important to understand which of these needs to take precedence as early in the project as possible. 

Impact of Covid-19 

Covid-19 has inevitably had an impact on future strategy, and, when asked, Vicki explained that it has made agile working opportunities leap forward ten years overnight, with many staff working from home, which prior to the pandemic was an unlikely consideration. Going forward, it has highlighted that agility is an opportunity and has prompted them to look at what may really be needed going forward, but they have key challenges as a result. The first being to understand exactly what they need and can reasonably operate with, allowing for any future uplift, using the baseline occupancy data established during the pandemic. The second key challenge is managing public perception around consolidation of police stations if that were an outcome. At this stage it is too early to say what those changes might be.  

After mentioning the utilisation study carried out by the Metropolitan Police in his presentation, Cliff was asked how they were able to get validated data on utilisation of space given 24-hour operations? He explained that they physically sent people out at different times during the day to get a consistent story of how the buildings were occupied. This included targeting areas at multiple times during the day and asking for assistance from some of the local occupants. 

A Sustainable Future 

On the subject of sustainability, Rob Ireland identified that we are already seeing an increase in focus on sustainability at planning stage, for example through BREEAM requirements, but it is also important to consider the whole life cycle costing and how environmental performance improvements to buildings will benefit clients over a series of years, rather than just taking into account the initial outlay. Vicki outlined that sustainability is embedded into their organisation as they are ISO 140001 accredited, but the big challenge is in funding as there are big aspirations but only a small pot of money. This was echoed by Jon Simpson who said that it is a difficult balance to strike but one that they strive for. 


To summarise, there are inevitably challenges facing the sector, notably around budget constraints and adapting to the changes affecting estate management both as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and future expectations to become net zero carbon. Effective teamwork, collaboration and getting the right data on usage of property assets are key to mitigating these to provide quality facilities that are fit for purpose in providing an effective and efficient service to the public. 

Read more about our work in the blue light sector here.