While the economic and political backdrop to international investment in our cities continues to change, the need for comprehensive joined-up thinking across the public and private sectors has never been greater.

Chris Stewart SPF

Everyone in the real estate sector has a stake in ensuring that decision-making at every level is based on a solid understanding of the facts, knowledge and expertise.

It is therefore a significant step forward that the Scottish Real Estate Forum has been established, creating direct engagement between the sector and government on a regular basis.

The property industry gains from constant dialogue with both policymakers and cabinet ministers in charge, and it suffers when that dialogue is lacking.

The Scottish Real Estate Forum addresses this issue by bringing together representatives from across government tax, fiscal, property and infrastructure departments around a table with leading figures from the sector.

Glasgow Atlantic Sq HMRC

HMRC is considering Atlantic Square among its options to invest in Glasgow - Source: Shortlist revealed for Glasgow’s HMRC hub

The level of involvement of Keith Brown, MSP cabinet secretary for the economy, underlines the status of the property sector as a key economic driver and the commitment to carve out a path for economic growth through investment in commercial real estate, hotels, heritage, housing and other urban projects.

Devolved powers can provide the flexibility and the will to drive local advantage. Used effectively, with an efficient decision-making system, they can be key to attracting foreign investment, developing partnerships and securing local jobs.

Recognise challenges

As a developer, I see the forum as an opportunity to set out the realities of the market (good and bad) and to demonstrate that any government targets will remain just that until they recognise the challenges and discuss potential solutions with us.

Infrastructure funding, for example, is an issue and cannot increasingly fall to the developers. While planning is under review in Scotland, it has to be balanced with the need for expedient delivery – although worryingly Edinburgh City Council reports that one in three planning applications are invalid.

Regeneration works if it supports a city’s aspirations and is commercially sound. Frank discussion around risk and reward is needed and a way forward has to be found.

Edinburgh greenery

Edinburgh City Council’s recently unveiled housing strategy features the largest amount of green belt released since the 1960s - Source: Shutterstock/Shaiith

Just as importantly, the forum provides the environment in which the issues of Brexit and IndyRef2 can be aired and tackled in an open and constructive manner, with a focus on ensuring that Scotland’s approach to real estate remains consistent and continues to be a priority, whatever the wider economic fluctuations.

The forum is the first time that representatives across a spectrum of government departments responsible for real estate have worked with the industry in this way. Meeting quarterly, the forum will ensure that focus and momentum are maintained. 

It will review latest market indicators, look to position Scottish cities as destinations for overseas and domestic capital investment and ensure that the real estate sector is aligned to Scotland’s ambitions so it delivers for the wider economy in a sustainable way.

Perhaps most encouraging of all is that the forum is outward looking and inclusive. Anyone who is invested in the Scottish real estate industry can channel questions through it. Equally, it is a means for the industry to hear directly from policymakers.

Success can be achieved by good ideas and policy aspirations becoming reality but only with strong and constructive all-round participation.

Chris Stewart is CEO of the Chris Stewart Group and former chair of the Scottish Property Federation