A housing market that works for everyone: is there a shift in Government policy towards the private rented sector?

Last week members of the Connect team caught up on the latest political and industry trends at RESI, Property Week’s annual conference on the UK residential property market.

Gavin Barwell MP used the conference as a platform for his first major speech as Housing Minister and revealed a distinct change in direction from the new Government. Most notable was a shift away from the previous Government’s focus on home ownership and a move towards using a breadth of tenure types to solve the housing crisis, including rental. Mr Barwell specifically mentioned Essential Living’s Archway Tower – a project which converted a disused office block into high quality rented homes and for which Connect helped secure planning approval -stating that it “must be the start”.

Affordable housing was a key component of Savills’ Lucian Cook’s speech, immediately before Gavin Barwell’s, and this was picked up on by the Minister. He announced he would revisit the manifesto commitment made at the last election to deliver 200,000 starter homes, stating that “It’s obviously a manifesto commitment that we have, what I’ve got to look at is can we have a wider range of products in terms of affordable housing”.

Overall Barwell’s speech echoed the key themes put forward by Theresa May on the day she became PM; he mentioned “a better housing market that works for everyone” on more than one occasion and emphasised the social value of the work of house builders.

James Murray, the Labour Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development at the Greater London Authority, tackled through some tough topics in his question and answer session with the BBC’s Home Affairs Editor, Mark Easton. His tone was conciliatory and pragmatic, which would have been a great relief to those worried about his approach.

He said that there was much agreement in the industry; that more land needs to be released; that the planning system needs to be clearer, quicker and more consistent; and that more investment is required across the board. Murray was clear that the long-term strategic target for 50% affordable housing across London stands firm, although he did not expect the figure to be achieved in every development. He also accepted that discount market rent could soon be added to the mix of tenures contributing towards affordable housing.

Innovation, innovation, innovation

One of the key themes of the conference was innovation, with Yo!Homes’ Gerard Greene advising the industry “to be Uber before it is ‘kodaked’”. The Private Rented Sector (PRS) and modular housing are two innovations clearly making waves, with Berkeley Homes’ Tony Pidgley announcing that 20% of their production will be modular and a number of large number of big developers talking about moves into PRS.

For Gerard Greene and Silk Road’s James Fenner, the emphasis was on the customer and how developers build for them. There was also talk of ‘Prop Tech’ innovations and using data to create better spaces.

Overall the feeling at this year’s RESI was one of optimism but only time will tell whether optimism and innovation will help solve the UK housing crisis. With a change in Government emphasis, now is the time to think through new solutions and make progress. If you would like Connect’s assistance and hear more of our insight into the politics of planning, please contact l.page-jennings@connectpa.co.uk

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