Falling public trust in ‘placemaking’ and developers
31 October 2018
Public trust in the planning system and the property industry is deteriorating.
I have seen a growing polarisation of the debate on planning, housing and developers, manifested in negative headlines, high-profile speeches or politically-charged planning refusals.
We feel this most in areas where the pressure on space is severe – particularly in London. Often, the result is a standoff between communities, developers and local authorities that slows or prevents action.
Doing nothing is not an option: old homes become obsolete; fewer new homes are built; and the space for new jobs, schools and public spaces is not delivered. The result? Quality of life in our cities deteriorates.
There must be an alternative.
Taking a hard look in the mirror
The truth is, at Grosvenor, like many property companies, we have failed to tell our story in clear enough ways. We have historically failed to describe how development is valuable both in financial terms and to society.
Because of this, the benefits of the places we create are rarely associated with our actions. Developers are perceived to be the problem, rather than part of the solution.
We will have to do more to meet the public’s aspirations for the local benefits of private investment and explain our purpose more openly.
Pragmatism, honesty and creativity
However, the answer can’t come from our industry alone. The public and the public sector have a big part to play.
Today’s debate on development is poor, binary and often commandeered by minority voices making simple assertions that mask the boring but complex reality.
Public sector leaders must play a more effective role, talking candidly about the benefits that change can bring but also the hard choices, often between competing benefits, that they and a community must make.
Trade-offs should be better explored and understood. We know that we need more homes, particularly in London. But local councils face budget cuts and caps on borrowing. Land is scarce. Private developers are willing to invest, but only at a rate of return that justifies the risks they bear.
We’ll need greater honesty, pragmatism and creativity from all sides.
From rhetoric to resolution
If we accept we have a problem, then as a business we’ll need to push ourselves to be more transparent by including communities more in the choices to be made between competing benefits; and by working with the public sector to speed up the delivery of benefits locally.
We’ll also need public sector leadership to cut through a binary debate and provide a stable policy environment.
I think we have an enormous, positive opportunity to recast these conversations together and tackle the challenges facing our cities.
Hear more from Craig on this and other big questions for the sector at Building London30 January 2019.
Become a member
Our members include over 200 of the capital’s leading employers across a wide range of sectors, with a common commitment to our capital.