A riotous end to a tumultuous year

The UKR Christmas party on Monday was a suitably riotous affair. Our entire professional team attended lunch in the private room of Villandry St James, where the kitchen and waiting staff seriously did us proud. As ever. An eclectic mix of folk – planners, surveyors, designers, comms-types, hangers on, liggers and laggers – gathered for festivities, all united in the cause of delivering our (still very secret) major planning application.

Gill Marshall was the hostess with the mostest, sporting her best slingbacks and motherly manner. People were enthusiastically clasped to bosoms. Our new master planners, HTA, appointed a couple of weeks back, were given a bit of a baptism-by-fire in the wine-fuelled UKR way. One of the architects professed surprise at how many former senior civil servants there are involved in UKR (there were at least four present on Monday and that wasn’t the full set); my response being: well why wouldn’t you tap into the brightest, most frustrated, thinkers in our field if you are trying to disrupt the market?

And the divine Paul Finch (chair of our master planner selection panel) also graced us, on excellent form, in his cashmere singlet, giving us the benefit of his searing post-Brexit analysis. The wine flowed, and everybody seemed to have a high old time. And the event went on for so long that at one point Finchy shouted “where’s dinner?”.  Just like the old days. Hilarious.  It was all a hoot.  And loving. All very fitting really.

And gawd knows, we all feel massively in need of some Christmas cheer. I am not going to rehearse the tumult again here, but nothing will ever be the same again after this weird old year. And, early in 2017, into this discordant mix of too-many-moving-parts will come the Housing White Paper (latest intelligence is 16 January, but do not hold me to that) which will seek to make sense of the fact that housing delivery in this country is far from immune to this climate of total disruption.

So… predictions for 2017?  Well, this is always a risky game.  But I do think that the PRS may finally be at the tipping point, and that we will see further progress here, if only in terms of numbers, and if only really in London and Manchester.  I also believe that we may finally see the breakthrough for Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) due to a heady combination of Mark Farmer’s indefatigable work with the Farmer Review (see blog 18 October) and the push and pull of the dire labour market conditions (well, there will certainly be a breakthrough on this if I have anything to do with it!).

There will be yet more talk of release of public land, but having attempted to wrestle that particular beast to the ground on countless occasions, I am less confident about its potential success. And there may be a glitch on the Local Plan process, (see blog 15 December) while local authority planners assess the demands of the Housing White Paper against their own evidence bases. But I believe the overall timetable will be adhered to, with pressure on all local authorities to have a compliant Local Plan in place by the end of 2017.

And what of UKR?  Well sadly I can’t tell you that, without then having to kill you. Although secrecy is not our usual style, we are still firmly under the radar, as we need to respect, and respect utterly, the wishes and guidance of our host local authority. But I am looking forward to the Big Reveal in this column and elsewhere when the time comes.  Because make no mistake we at UKR, in partnership with our local authority and others, do intend to try to forge a new paradigm for delivering housing at speed and at scale, without forgoing quality. It is a tough call, but me and the team have been at this for over six years now and we are not going to give up.  I am fervently hoping that 2017 will be UKR’s year.  And if not, please just take me to the vet and have me put down.

So a happy happy HAPPY Christmas to you all out there in EG land.  I hope Santa brings you your heart’s desire.  And gird your loins for another roller coaster ride next year.

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