November 2011 Archives
And the central point remains (and sorry if this is unpopular in our industry, guys) that government is proposing to subsidise a (still) overinflated asset class.
The sun was streaming into City Hall (the Thames was twinkling), onto the great and good of the housing industry out in force. Charmaine Young of St George, in the most extraordinary feat, has corralled a massive number of industry leaders to produce the most formidable book Working Together. Delivering Growth through Localism (details can be found at www.berkeleygroup.co.uk/growth-and-localism). And it is a most assured treatment for the enlightened house builder. She is indeed a force to be reckoned with. And everyone was there.
We're so busy in UKR these days that it isn't until the weekend that I get to catch up with the news and commentary. Much on Boris's Fantasy Island story (gaining traction methinks, and good for him!) and a very damning piece in the Sunday Times Magazine on One Hyde Park, which will be bleak reading for the Candy boys.
But...did the National Trust really say that the Eurozone crisis is linked to "lax planning" one day last week in the Daily Telegraph or have I entered a parallel universe? Absolutely surreal. To hit out at the government's drive to lift planning restrictions by claiming that the economic plight of European nations such as Greece is linked to the fact that they have "lax planning regimes" must surely test the patience of even the most diehard Sir Bufton-Tufton Telegraph reader. Is there no end to this obsessive behavior? Planning regimes will be responsible for world poverty and pestilence next. Beggars belief! And it made me laugh so much I choked on my cup of tea. The words "calm down dear" spring to mind, I'm afraid, forgive the sexist connotation.
Of course the big bit of news last week for us in (what is left of) the regeneration sector is the appointment of the sainted Sir Bob Kerslake to be Chief of the Civil Service.
I am seriously glad we are embarked on this course, we've all seen there was more bad news yesterday with the banner headlines on the million young people unemployed, and there isn't a moment to lose.
And this is the week that Greg Clark's (in my view, splendid) Localism Bill became law. Technically, he may have given the Commission the exact tools to do its job.
We rambled at times, and sometimes it could have been likened to a box of frogs, but there was no shortage of energy, and the ideas were certainly flowing. People from both the public and the private sector are just so very frustrated about where we are, it is palpable, you can cut it with a knife. It is such a disconnect, and it is giving us the perfect conditions for real creative thinking. At one point a few of us tried to explain what success would look like. Dr Evans was characteristically urbane, but I found myself saying that it would ALL finally work for me when we didn't have a situation where 200 banks were queuing to fund a single office block in the West End of London but a steady number of folk were prepared to invest in Sunderland. Or Nottingham. Is it such a pipe dream?
Thank goodness for our own response! The campaign being run by Estates Gazette and UK Regeneration - Building a Better Britain - is certainly picking up pace now. You'll have seen that Damian has announced the names of the members of the Regeneration Commission in Saturday's magazine (and a darned sexy bunch we all are too, even if I say so myself) and tonight is the inaugural meeting so I am uber-excited.
I see the CBI has jumped on the band wagon and is demanding more support for first-time buyers this morning with a mortgage indemnity device. This is hot on the heels of Rightmove reporting that 45% of first-time buyers state they now feel "more likely to buy" since the government's FirstBuy scheme was announced in the March budget and launched in September (it allows first-time buyers to purchase a new-build property using just a 5% deposit, with a further 20% deposit loaned to them interest-free) although they were quick to point out that there is still room for improvement as "over a third of FTBs have still not heard of the scheme".
Well hats off to the CBI (and to FirstBuy come to that) for trying everything they can think of to get the economy going. You've got to do something. But I do wonder whether they are aiming for the right target. Is owning a (probably poky) home the holy grail then?
Only last week, Paul Smee, the new director general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, went into the national press (headline "House-buying dreams dashed") saying that many will spend far longer renting than they imagined and that there are millions who will never own a home. And presumably it is in his interests, and that of his members, to talk UP the mortgage market. And his comments were echoed by deputy governor of the Bank of England, (the excellently named) Charlie Bean, who predicted the number of homeowners will drop because lenders will stop handing out "imprudently generous" mortgages that require little or no deposit. (I don't know who these people who are handing out "imprudently generous" mortgages as I don't know anyone who can get a mortgage right now; although someone did describe Northern Rock to me as a "heroin junkie" the other day, perhaps they are the imprudent ones.)
The average age for first time buyers has hit 39 and the logical concomitant of this is that millions of young people and families may never be able to buy their own home. And moreover that it may not even be desirable for them to try. Which is where the UKR mantra "don't get a mortgage, get a life" comes into play.
My eldest (still relentlessly a kidult, despite the fact that she'll be 21) leaves university in June (where does all the time go?). And, naturally, we are giving some though as to what's next. And to where she'll be living. She'll probably come home for a bit (and the place will get knee deep in magazines, clothes, cosmetics, shoes, handbags, all over again; oh joy unconfined) but I think she'll want to find a place of her own fairly quickly. With her student loan to pay back, there is simply no question of her taking out a mortgage. You know, we are the average property owing middle class nuclear family and it is never even discussed as an option.
I was with a hugely enlightened local authority yesterday (no I won't tell you who, nosey, oh alright then, it was Enfield) at senior level, discussing unlocking a scheme with them. They were very receptive to the UKR model of build-to-let. They said that they wanted economically active people in their borough who would spend money locally, and employ cleaners and other local services, they cared not whether they owned or rented, they want stability and long termism, to reinforce and support their communities. Diversifying the housing stock is the sane response to the potential toxicity of yet more youngsters being lured into mortgages that they cannot afford. I don't want the kidult (my beautiful, glossy, bright, stunning, healthy girl) to have a millstone around her neck. I want her to have love and laughter. And be happy. And I don't guess I'm THAT strange as a mother.
The government bulletin reads: "We want to move quickly in allocating funding and getting the fund working. In order to apply for funding, local enterprise partnerships should therefore complete a short pre-qualification questionnaire committing themselves to delivering infrastructure, and return this to the CLG by 20 December. Decisions on funding will be announced in late January."
What a disappointment. What a waste of time, money and energy. Worst of all, what a wasted opportunity.
We had such high hopes. After long campaigning to rescue regeneration from oblivion at the time of the election we had been pleased (admittedly we are sometimes easily pleased) to get any document out of government with "regeneration" in the title.
We've had a whirlwind few days working on the EG/UKR Building a Better Britain Regeneration Commission (not so much "the great and good", more like "the greatest and the goodest") which Damian will be announcing in the next few days. You will be uber-impressed, I promise, and with the brain power amassed there, and we are looking to brainstorm out some very real and radical ideas. And we won't stop at the small group of industry leaders on the Commission; we had such a warm and generous amount of support to the Build a Better Britain Campaign that the EG launched in the summer, that we will be calling for articles, blogs and position pieces from all who wish to contribute. It is an inclusive campaign by its very nature. Come one, come all.
And then - even more exciting - we've been putting together a scintillating line up for the Regeneration: Build a Better Britain Conference to take place at the very impressive Cannon Place in the City of London, courtesy of our good friends at Hines who are our generous host. This could well be characterised as "the great and good meet the weird and wacky" and we will report on the findings of the Regeneration Commission and will seriously seek to seek to generate some new ideas and models for our troubled times.