If the EU referendum and the US elections have shown us anything, it is that being too insular, living in our own bubble and ignoring the sentiments and differing opinions of the wider world can be extremely dangerous.
Property should ultimately be a people-focused industry: it is, after all, about creating places for people to live, work, shop or spend their leisure time. But with a lack of supply of new homes driving prices upwards, the much-reported housing crisis is leading to desperation and disaffection among younger people and those in the lower to middle sections of the market.
With a residential sector that has, until recently at least, been arguably too focused on luxury property and overseas and investment buyers, it is unsurprising that some people feel let down by developments that seemingly fail to cater for them.
The awards handed out at events such as the Property Awards often recognise innovation, but this is still a relatively rare commodity in the property sector. With supply and demand dynamics meaning that housebuilders in particular can carry on building in the way they always have done and be sure of making a profit, where is the incentive to innovate, to do things more cheaply, efficiently and quickly?
For the community at large, the inability to build sufficient housing stock represents a threat to quality of life, financial security, or even survival; for property developers, it could easily appear to be a fortuitous economic phenomenon that props up profits and which they would be foolish to do anything to change.
All the redevelopment is a stage
Of course, policy has a role to play here - and speeding up the planning process, stopping land banking and more clearly defining affordable housing quotas would certainly improve matters - but we need to recognise our responsibilities.
Banker bashing has already turned into developer decking and we need to act now
Developments should offer real benefits for communities, whether through social housing provision, local employment and training opportunities, improved amenities and public spaces or cultural facilities that enrich lives. Our development at Islington Square, which includes 35% affordable housing, launched with a free Festival of Culture, inviting local people to the site to enjoy a pop-up cinema, as well as music, comedy and dance from local and internationally known artists.
At The Stage we are launching two high-quality office buildings as part of a mixed-use site that will create 2,700 jobs and involves the excavation and preservation of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre. Throughout the dig, we’ve invited schoolchildren and the local community to the site and, in addition to creating an acre of vibrant public space including a new park, we will be developing a new visitor centre to showcase these historical remains that have been buried for so long, creating a new international tourism destination for Hackney.
New-build developments are not always going to be the right option for first-time buyers or those with smaller budgets, but we do need to ensure that what we are developing matches a real market need and is a sensible addition to the local housing stock that reflects the local community. Property developers are not charities and making a profit from property is not a sin. But there needs to be balance.
Of course, developments still need to be viable, but this should not be used as a reason to negotiate affordable housing contributions down to next to nothing and ignore the needs and wants of local people. Instead, innovation is needed to modernise housebuilding and drive cost efficiencies through faster and cheaper construction methods.
Banker bashing has already turned into developer decking and we need to act now to ensure that the industry’s reputation for greed is not allowed to propagate.