The second of three blog posts (see parts 1 and 3) covering the 2017 British Property Federation (BPF) annual residential conference, briefly outlines some of the takeaways from a panel discussion amongst senior civil servants and a chief executive of Britain´s largest housebuilder followed by a keynote presentation by Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills.
“The Housing Challenge”
The panel consisted of Tom Copley, London Assembly Member; Mark Prisk MP, former Housing Minister; Sir Edward Lister, Chairman, Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and David Thomas, Group Chief Executive at Barratt Developments. Some of the key points are summarised below:
- Addressing an issue that prompted cause for concern in the aftermath of the Housing White Paper, Top Copley of the London Assembly advocated a move away from an “obsession” with homeownership using the example of the London Living Rent as being one of the “lynchpins” of Mayor Sadiq Khan´s affordable housing delivery drive. Admitting that there is a long way to go, the implementation of the London Plan and the £5 billion government support specifically for the Capital are expected to last well into several mayoral terms;
- Risks moving forward include achieving scale, an ageing workforce, skills challenges and ensuring that new stock that comes on to the market is of the best quality (higher volumes should not signify a drop in standards). Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and prefabricated buildings are important but ongoing development of essential building trades is essential. Materials and methodologies are changing and market disruptors have significant potential to create positive effects on improving quality standards. The stigmatisation of prefabricated building structures, it is hoped, will be overcome as more units come on to the market;
- Mark Prisk MP acknowledged that government must “step up to the plate” and support the sector, regardless of market conditions, outlining the need to take a more pragmatic and less “doctrinal” approach to housebuilding. Prisk also called for more innovative approaches to the question of affordable housing supply such as the increased role of councils and collaborative public-private efforts (Brick-by-Brick in Croydon, as wholly owned public development company, was cited as an example by Tom Copley). Prisk also described the second-hand housing market as “dysfunctional” and, with an ageing population living in larger homes, a serious debate is necessary;
- David Thomas of Barratt Developments also underlined the importance of adding more case studies of successful public-private partnerships and called for public land to become more available to the wider market. In terms of strategic land and the issue of “land banking” addressed in the previous presentation, whilst Thomas stated that Barratt Homes has the lowest backlog of unimplemented permissions, the significant amount of “clean up” work to bring a site forward and ready to build was highlighted. Thomas also believed that, despite the Brexit unknowns, funding will continue providing a long-term perspective is maintained;
- Sir Edward Lister commented on the need for sustained growth, regardless of the position in the cycle. This will ultimately require streamlined planning procedures and readily available capital. Despite the wall of institutional funding eager to invest in the PRS, Sir Lister underlined that a significant proportion of the population still want to own their own homes and Help to Buy should not be pushed out of the picture. Although developers will continue to work to expected absorption rates, he highlighted the role that the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has in underwriting and acquiring properties that are not selling as stock (to be utilised in social housing and Private Rented Sector schemes). Complementary infrastructure and construction sector skills development are necessary for larger sites to come forward and it was his hope that Home Building Fund (announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement) will encourage such progress by both smaller and larger developers.
Some of the main points of the next keynote presentation given by Jules Pipe, Deputy London Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills entitled “The New Team – I Love It When A Plan Comes Together” are summarised below:
- City Hall is talking a lot about “good growth”, publishing the 2016 non-statutory document “Homes for Londoners” (draft affordable housing and viability supplementary planning guidance) which highlights the basis of the London Plan´s 25-year vision and is expected to be published in 2019 (as a result of various statutory hurdles and other consultations);
- Some 50,000 new homes are needed per year in London and the Mayor plans to place a distinct emphasis on creating more affordable tenures and increasing density without compromising local community dynamics (44,000 new jobs will be created annually);
- Concerns remain with regards to the 260,000 pipeline of approvals and the fact the 50% of developments are not being built out;
- Broader risks include the impact of Brexit across the London economy, the need and ongoing costs of regeneration / town centre development (particularly in areas that are well-connected to London) and greenbelt restrictions;
- Residential should not “crowd out” other uses and the importance of the retail sector and controls on industrial land release control were also highlighted. There are signs that this latter form stock is being depleted across the Capital;
- As highlighted in an earlier panel, the importance of creative and innovative development strategies will be paramount – examples cited included mix-use schemes and encouraging the growth of private-public housing companies. Good architecture / design will be fundamental and the Mayor has recently announced the establishment of more cohesive viability, urbanism and planning teams. There are, however, no “silver bullets” and the London plan will have to pull together all the different strands of housing in conjunction social and transport infrastructure in a sustainable manner.
These write ups and ongoing research are brought in line with the ongoing land finding and promotion work of PS Development Services.