Opportunity still knocks

BUSINESS conglomerate Hanson is favouring smaller and local law firms in its high-profile £500 million new town project, which is expected to generate millions of pounds in fees for professional advisers.

And Norton Rose, advising on environmental issues surrounding the now equally high-profile colony of great crested newts resident on Hanson's development site, is the only big London firm so far on the job.

James Hopkins, managing director of wholly-owned subsidiary Hanson Land, and key executive overseeing the project, said there were “very good reasons” for using smaller and regional firms.

“The market is much more competitive than in the late eighties. It's also a complete fallacy to think local firms don't have any talent. They do, and they can do the job at a fraction of the cost,” Hopkins said.

Hanson will not rule out City firms for any future major corporate work, however.

Among the firms acting on the project is West End firm Olswangs, which is advising on road agreements, land ownership issues, the sale of a site to Tescos, and instructing top silks Bill Hicks QC and Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC.

On the newts, Norton Rose planning and environmental partner Paul Shadaravian, designed a special statement of intent. It said conservation body English Nature could govern behaviour of parties in the development, in a long-term guarantee of the newt's habitat, while allowing the development to proceed.

“We have the interests of the newt at heart,” he said.

Gouldens advised in the initial stages of the case, with land title and registration matters. Hewitson Becke & Shaw is working on contract agreements. DJ Freeman acted for the Commission for New Towns in talks with Hansons, and Berwin Leighton acted for Tesco.