Blog: 16 September 2016The state of a nation: The ‘will’ of a country?

Stephen Tucker

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Stephen Tucker

Partner

Edinburgh office

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I joined over 80 participants late last month, at the Scottish Property Conference, to debate and discuss the current market and challenges we are facing as a nation. Hosted by UK Property Professionals, the core message from panellists and the audience alike, was that Brexit and Indyref2 are almost certainly looming heavily over every sector, but that as an industry, we need to ensure that we drive our Government and public sector to understand how they and we can ensure it has no wider detrimental effect.  

Estates Gazette kicked things off with a panoply of statistics to prove that Scotland remains a strong, healthy and competitive commercial investment opportunity, as industrial, office and retail all showed strong resilience over the last 12 months. Despite significant recent retail closures retail and food & beverage activity showed a marked rise. Our cities (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee were all represented) supported this view, with their impressive top rankings in national and international city lists, flashy commercial and cultural proposals and talk of economic ambition and direction. So if we left it there, it would seem that the state of the nation is good, but as with the rest of the UK, it remains housing and the response to this ever growing crisis, that continues to challenge our industry and administration.

An ambitious 6,000 home affordable housing target by Edinburgh City is of course welcomed, but how can this be delivered? As one of the most NIMBY populations, what is their strategy for overcoming this resistance and speeding up delivery here, or indeed anywhere, as Holyrood reiterates its desire for 50,000 new affordable homes in the next 5 years?

As per my last response to the report of the panel for the Review of the Scottish Planning System, we cannot continue as we always have done and expect to accelerate supply. We haven’t delivered the volume of homes required since the public sector drive of the 1950’s and nor are we likely to, using the process and approach of today. In the room last month, there were investors with access to many willing funds, keen to invest in our strong residential sector, and yet frustrated by the attitude and approach of Local Authorities and Members towards private sector housing delivery. Yes, Indyref2 is adding to their woes, but the continued distrust of the private sector housing developer, despite the opportunity they present to meet the affordable housing target, also undermines their willingness to participate.

Many long stalled, major housing opportunity sites across the country are not being addressed. New infrastructure provision is not being capitalised upon through settlement expansion or development, despite the opportunity new junctions and rail infrastructure offers in terms of highly sustainable locations. Funding models and modern methods of construction are also key requirements for faster, efficient delivery (Dr John Boyle of Rettie & Co presented a great model on the day, which seeks to capitalise upon those who are looking for long term, low yield investment opportunities, while in turn reducing the upfront risk taken by housebuilders and is a clever way to get more investors participating), but at every turn we come back to collaborative working and the role of our public sector.

We need Local Authorities and Elected Members to engage positively with this discussion, to work with us to demonstrate the value and benefits of residential development for them and their future occupants. We need to support it through the delivery of adequate timely local infrastructure and enable all to capitalise upon the economic growth/opportunities the development brings. One delegate asked the question – what should come first, commercial or residential development to gain maximum economic growth? For me it is both, hand in hand and currently our approach does not equally support the two.

So my take away thoughts from the day?

  • We need, as business people to vocalise our concerns around Indyref2 with Government;
  • We need to have the will to resist talking ourselves into a downturn; and
  • We need to drive the public sector to understand and adopt their role in housing delivery and therefore the wider economic success of Scotland.  

Thinking about this has made me even more convinced that we need to rethink investment in housing, practices in construction, and resources, skills and even culture in local authorities, if we are to try and improve delivery and tackle wider economic issues

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Scotland, Scottish Planning System, Scottish Planning Review