Five months ago I suggested that the property industry was not always as innovative as it should be.
Many said I had got it wrong. The property industry was innovative. It has embraced new technology. Digital marketing has taken off. The power of data drives decisions. This is what the modern property sector is all about, I was told.
There is unquestionably some truth to these sorts of statements. However, as I have sifted through more than 70 entries to the inaugural Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) Enterprise Award, I can’t help but feel that we may be collectively missing the point. Enterprise and innovation is not just about technology. It is primarily about people.
The theme of devolution for the award has proved very apt. In the past 18 months, the issue has gone from a niche concern, barely on our industry’s radar, to one of the most profound changes shaping our country. At its heart is a belief in private enterprise and the power of local groups and communities to get things done.
When deciding on the shortlist I was struck that, in a very diverse set of submissions, the one thing all the best entries had in common was trust in the ability of people to make a difference.
For example, housing charity Shelter proposed empowering communities to manage green-belt land, allowing local people to decide on the right balance between creating new homes and preserving green space. Think tank ResPublica argued convincingly that devolution cannot deliver economic development without delivering social value for local residents. The winner of our staff award, Thaddaeus Jackson-Browne, suggested introducing the principles of crowdsourcing to local planning to improve the process.
In fact, all the best thinking put people at its heart. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of the winner, the Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing District (AMID) Partnership, which brings together the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Harworth Estates, Sheffield Business Park, Creative Sheffield, Sheffield City Council and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.
The winning submission rests on a recognition that the modern economy is a knowledge economy. High-growth firms gravitate to enterprise clusters to access the best human capital.
The AMID Partnership understood that to create a high-value manufacturing business park, it also needed a wider sense of place that makes people want to work there. That means linking with the education sector to develop the local skills base, creating good homes and communities and making it easy and pleasant to get around. The AMID Partnership has demonstrated its commitment to people by pledging to use the £15,000 prize fund to create a scholarship for a promising young engineer.
The AMID Partnership entry highlighted that this integrated approach to planning, with people at its heart, is a model for other local authorities grappling with newly devolved powers and funding to follow.
But equally, there are many lessons that can also be applied to the property industry. Chief among them is that the best ideas come when we empower our staff to plan schemes that put people first. This may sound simple, but there is still plenty to do. As an industry, we still do not recruit a broad enough mix of talent and too often local communities are seen as barriers rather than valued stakeholders.
The LSH Enterprise Award was set up to challenge the industry to do better. Devolution offers an unprecedented opportunity for the property industry to play a leading role in shaping the future of the UK. If we are to deliver on that promise, we need to free up the creativity and enterprise within our industry. To deliver innovation, we need to put people first.
Ezra Nahome is chief executive officer at Lambert Smith Hampton