The housing, property and built environment sectors were out in force demonstrating just what our Chief Executive Jasmine Whitbread called for in her opening speech of Building London 2019.
“The only way we’re going to solve London’s housing crisis is if everyone takes their slice of the responsibility … and contributes their share of the solution.
[We need] …money from government, ambition from the Mayor, flexibility from the boroughs and innovation from the industry. The four pieces of the jigsaw. All equally vital.”
We also revealed the concerning results of our poll with Grosvenor on what Londoners really feel about London’s housing, with 4 in 10 considering leaving the capital because of its housing costs, and a quarter saying they’ll be leaving in the next year.
In his headline keynote, Grosvenor GBI Chief Executive Craig McWilliam called on developers to regain the public’s trust in placemaking: “People too often feel planning decisions are done to them, not with, or for, them. We need a fundamentally new model for more people to interact with the planning system and developers.”
Here’s the full wrap up of the day’s activity.
Government announces further investment in housing
In his Ministerial address, Rt Hon James Brokenshire demonstrated Government’s commitment to tackling the housing crisis by announcing a £500m investment in affordable housing via Housing Associations working in partnership with government. He also revealed a £9m investment in new modular house building through Apex Airspace, London First members. This was a much welcomed sign. See the full statement here.
Brexit and the Built Environment
James Ashton chaired a vocal debate on whether Brexit is or isn’t to blame for the current conditions. Howard Dawber MD of Canary Wharf Group was clear that uncertainty had undoubtedly impacted willingness to invest and keep large businesses in the capital, but the Group is looking at diversifying its tenants to remain agile in this climate.
Brendan Sarsfield, Chief Executive of Peabody Group saw Brexit as just one of a number of challenges the capital must overcome: a rigid planning system, lack of flexibility from Government to move in time with the markets and an unwieldy two-tier system of London and central government to work around.
Chief Executive of Grainger Helen Gordon spoke about remaining resilient through the Brexit uncertainty, citing how the whole Grainger business model is now based on Build to Rent (BTR), having sold off their ‘homes for sale’ business and their German assets.
Helen sees a strong BTR market in the UK and there is now the political will, through the National Planning Policy Framework to support it. The main impact of Brexit is the increase in costs of labour and materials, and the concerns of restricted access to global talent, with the London market totally dependent on overseas labour.
Richard Tice, CEO Quidnet Capital presented his positive take, stressing that his investors were continuing to put their money behind London, Wales and Scotland.
Ellie Evans, Partner at Volterra Partners gave a market insight and a reminder that the property sector is cyclical, and the historic slump of 2008/9 was clearly not down to Brexit, but what Brexit is doing today is making the market anaemic.
UK City regions — growing together or apart?
Infrastructure was a hot topic in the session, and seen as key to bringing our city regions together literally and figuratively, encouraging sustainable growth across the UK. Head of West Midlands Combined Authority Deborah Cadman pointed to HS2 as the scheme to deliver on that goal, and also reiterated that growth was “not a zero sum gain, we are not competing with other cities”.
Fiona Fletcher Smith, Group Director Sales and Development, L&Q housing highlighted the role of regional government in keeping our cities robust to the challenges of Brexit. Both in promoting their attractiveness to foreign investors but also providing temporary subsidies to keep things moving through challenging times.
Deep dive into the London Plan
On Industrial land and housing,OPDC highlighted their emphasis on delivering great places, which meant selectively pursuing mixed use schemes; protecting heavily industrialised sites to remain in that use and being more creative in terms of mix in other areas.
Enfield Council highlighted the challenges posed by current strategic planning policy to encourage co-location on high-value existing industrial sites. Barratt London called for greater clarity about what industrial uses are suitable for co-location with residential development. It is particularly challenging bring smaller industrial sites forward for redevelopment as there is likely to be a net loss of industrial space which triggers a challenging policy requirement to provide 50% affordable housing. Finally, WSP considered the importance of the positioning of industrial sites in relation to strategic transport infrastructure.
Density up and out-
Paula Carney, Head of Planning WYG, reminded us that both inner and outer London boroughs must embrace density if we’re to deliver on housing targets. And the discussion centred on ways of bringing boroughs on board to deliver this.
Attzaz Rashid, Head of Design at Barratt London said viability remained a significant hurdle. For outer London boroughs there needs to be a significant step change in approach and mindset, it is a big leap from delivering 50 home developments to 400.
Community engagement continues to be important once development has been built. Lessons learnt from Singapore where they build 40,000 homes a year, show that it is essential to create new communities and bring existing communities together and to create great public realm.
Shevaughn Rieck, Partner, Farrells gave a positive example of working with Sutton Council to diversify its high street, creating a community hub that would encourage higher density housing in the locality. And Val Bagnell, MD of Apex Airspace referenced the Government’s £9m investment in their innovative modular housing in the space above existing buildings.
Plan-led vs scheme viability
Chair, Robert Fourt, Development Partner, Gerald Eve, highlighted that this is a very topical issue at the moment with the draft new London Plan EiP underway and a few of the boroughs trying to grapple with an area-wide viability assessment to support emerging Local Plans.
Harriet Fisher, Team Leader, MHCLG referenced the underlying belief that if plans are in place and policies are clear, then the market will deliver. MHCLG see this new approach as a starting point to move away from the current system and are working closely with RICS to refine it.
Lisa Fairmaner, Corporate Head of Planning, RB Kingston upon Thames welcomed moves to improve the system, but was concerned about the resource burden being placed on plan making. She said that all her borough wants is a spade in the ground, we don’t want to waste weeks and weeks negotiating a S106 agreement to the ‘enth degree. We need a faster process and more transparency for local people.
Claire Dickinson, Director, Quod said that, as an industry, everyone will need to be more engaged in the development plan process and take a more collaborative approach. The key is to make sure that affordable housing targets are not set too high in the first place and there is a level playing field.
Mike Walker, Board Development Director, Fairview Homes said it would be impossible to engage in the development plan process for all 33 London boroughs. In any event, every site has different viability challenges and he is concerned that any plan will be out of date as soon as it is published.
5 facts from our Future of London innovation pitches
* We now have four generations working in the office for the first time (Aecom on the Death of the Office?)
* 95% of people getting into the city travel by bike, foot or public travel (City of London Corporation on its Transport Strategy for the Square Mile)
* The private rented sector in London is approaching 30% of households, by 2025 expected to be around 40% (Telford Homes on Build to Rent)
* Construction is the least productive industry in the UK at around 25% (Swan Housing Association on the End of the Brickie?)
* With the relaxation of the HRA cap. Joint Ventures could potentially offer local authorities a way to deliver new housing (Arcadis on Council House Building)
Borough Leaders in Conversation
Cllr Claire Coghill, leader of Waltham Forest stressed that boroughs have all suffered tremendous budgetary challenges in recent years and have had to reshape and change how they function since 2010.
On the London Plan Claire asked whether it wrestled too much control from boroughs and questioned if there are enough levers to put further pressure on political forces to get things done?
In Waltham Forest, one of her priorities is involving communities more in borough activities and in shaping policy, contributing to consultations. But, there was no denying the biggest challenge to her borough’s residents is the cost of living, with rents doubling in her time in office.
The picture was similar for Rokhsana Fiaz OBE, Mayor of Newham, who said housing accounted for 99.9% of issues raised in her Borough’s surgery and called for rent controls.
Rokhsana also recognised the role planning can play in strengthening communities. Whilst you can’t design out poverty, placemaking can ensure that we have communities that are mixing together and it’s important that any cultural strategy reflects diversity of local populations.
There was strong will from both to work closely with developers. Boroughs are keen to look at innovative ways of building and want the sector to work with them to do things differently to increase the number of new homes.
Developers need to speak in a more authentic way and engage effectively with local communities through master planning and design of new developments.
Both boroughs and developers need to communicate better with communities and show the tangible benefits of development.
Deputy Mayors’ Question Time
Echoing messages from throughout the day, James Murray emphasised the GLA was putting affordable housing front and centre stage, but needed more government funding to deliver affordable housing at the rate London needs. He also pressed that all parties from boroughs to developers must work hard to build trust with residents and communities.
Jules Pipe stressed that density requires careful thinking about what could be born from that site, and is not about destroying the nature of outer London overnight.
He also pointed to the sector’s skills crisis and the high proportion of the construction workforce coming from the EU. “We have to get our act together to keep up with pace of loss.”
When one delegate asked ‘how can we convince government of the need for Crossrail 2?’. Jules responded with another question: when have we ever regretted a major infrastructure project? We always make the money back and the process unlocks sites for growth along the way, citing the Crossrail corridor as an example.
Shirley Rodrigues reminded us that planning must be sustainable, and that environmental considerations are a priority for the GLA, across housing, broader development and transport projects.
To see the full picture from the day, simply follow #BuildingLondon on Twitter.
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