UK - Greenbelt and brownfield land earmarked for development is rapidly emerging as a sub-asset class in an otherwise overvalued real estate market.

Amid government targets for three million new residential units by 2020, investors are understood to be sourcing strategic land - land allocated for development by local authorities - for sale at various points in the planning process.

Developer Inland last week secured planning permission for a 24.5-acre decommissioned site in Farnborough, Hampshire, and two smaller schemes in greater London.

Although Stephen Trenwith, the firm's development director, acknowledged there has been an increase in competition for land, he told IPE Real Estate: "You need a specific skillset to get planning permission. We're specialists in it."

He added: "We had a local authority willing to work with us and that isn't always the case. In this case, we bucked the trend somewhat. But you don't always get that lucky."

This latest announcement comes just weeks after fund manager Cordea Savills launched an opportunistic fund that will acquire land and land options for residential development. Its seven-year fund, which targets a 20% return, has seed portfolio comprises 16 sites mainly concentrated in east London's Thames Gateway and seed capital of £50m (€71.5m) invested by unnamed cornerstone and lead European institutional investors.

"There's enormous pressure for housing on local authorities and planning. Managing the planning process is a whole industry by itself," said to Nick Hayward, director of institutional business at Cordea Savills.

"The planning process is not black and white. You go through draft allocations, then applications and consultations before you get granted planning permission. You could buy an unallocated site and sell it at the draft stage. But you can buy and sell at any time."