Blog: 7 October 2016HMI: Looking at the bigger picture

Kathryn Ventham

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Kathryn Ventham

Planning Director

Birmingham office

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From Lord’s to CEO’s, MP’s to Government Commissions, the latest Housing Market Intelligence event (hosted annually by the Housebuilder Media) didn’t fail to draw a crowd and as ever some interesting views from those who influence the day-to-day direction of our industry. Inspiring speech of the day almost certainly goes to Lord Digby-Jones, whose take on the country’s biggest challenges moved us away from the age old housing crisis and painted the bigger picture.

Lack of a skilled labour force has long been the lament of the property industry as we face the challenge to double output as a minimum. However, Digby-Jones’ point that a significant proportion (from memory over 40%!) of school leavers are exiting compulsory education with no GCSE’s of C or above, starkly highlights the challenge faced by employers offering apprenticeship programmes to applicants who are potentially not proficient at reading, writing or adding up.

His second key challenge however, really hit home for me. Looking beyond the immediate housing industry, it is our nations pensions and later living planning/investment which is a real cause for concern. Welfare and healthcare for an ageing population are fundamental strategic problems that are endemic in the western world and will in the longer term cause a huge challenge to our economic future.

With the Redfern Review just weeks away from publication this view was further reinforced by Peter Redfern, as he set out some of their key findings. Countrywide, the desire for homeownership has in no way diminished, but has reduced due to lack of economic strength of the first time buyer. This, as we know led to first time buyer stimulation policies, but the Review strongly questions this priority of ownership tenure.

Personally, I find this outcome unsurprising. Of course people want to own their own home still. The Government has blazed a trail for a number of years that sets this out as the only way to go, while our parents have all clearly shown the uplift it can provide. Of course we believe this is the most secure investment in the UK, because really, when you consider it carefully, what other investment opportunities do we have? Pensions are not trusted by many, stocks and shares are the dark arts.But there is salvation. The Redfern Review is also going to highlight that chasing home ownership in isolation ‘is leading to an unbalanced, unsustainable market’, and it would seem that May’s new Government are inclined to agree.

Hopefully with the release of the report we will therefore see more Government initiatives directed at supporting a longer term, multiple tenure market.

But my resounding take home from the conference was almost certainly courtesy of Gavin Barwell MP. As I sat listening to his overview of the latest Ministerial Announcement around ‘increased focus on brownfield land release and presumption in favour of brownfield development’, I was fielding emails regarding a current project. Located on a sustainable, brownfield site, this site fits Gavin’s preferences perfectly. However, despite a year’s worth of negotiations and lobbying, and a successful allocation in the Neighbourhood Plan (Localism at work!), the scheme was about to get deferred from the Planning Committee session that evening, due to hugely over-zealous and currently unsubstantiated S106 demands from the Local Authority.

I am therefore almost definitely of the view that at Government level what we need is leadership. Political leadership is needed if we are going to deal with the skills challenge, the need for housing affordability and the fact that today property wealth is our only current way of funding our personal, long term, elderly care needs.

Last week we launched our thinking on a National Vision for England, and we hope to continue pushing the need for this top level strategic direction. Do get involved! #England2050

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