Bringing together key names from across the residential property sector, including developers, investors, architects and proptech enablers, Property Week’s flagship housing conference saw major names come together to discuss topics across real estate.
A cornerstone of the UK property industry since 2006, this year RESi360 had changed more than its name, having departed from Celtic Manor for new surroundings - and a refreshed format - at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in Paddington, London.
The two days kicked off with a few words from long-standing host and award-winning broadcaster and writer Mark Easton, currently Home Editor at the BBC, who was marking his 10th year at the conference.
Mark was followed by Lawrence Bowles, director of residential research at Savills, who gave a chart-packed PowerPoint-fuelled overview of the big issues facing the residential industry.
The first talk saw insights from the CEOs of housing association Clarion and listed house-builder Telford Homes against one of the most troubling macroeconomic backdrops in living memory.
Anne Kavanagh, CEO of Telford Homes, said the next ten years would be a “transformative time” for the whole sector: “institutional investors are looking at the challenges in retail and residential sector… a lot of high streets needs to be repurposed, and if we’re smart as an industry that can provide a lot of opportunities for intergenerational living. The period of change we’re going to see will be phenomenal, providing some challenges but also opportunities.”
Clare Miller, CEO of Clarion, warned of the challenges many lower income households are facing thanks to the cost-of-living crisis: “The average household income of a new resident going into a Clarion home is less than £15,000… their experience of the Covid-19 pandemic did not allow them to work from home. They’re working in the care sector or retail, and their resources to fall back on in a pandemic are non-existent.”
Attendees were able to escape from reality with the next session on the metaverse. Emma Mansfield, Head of Partnerships at Decentraland, explained the concept: “it’s open-source, which essentially means anyone can use our code. It’s a platform that is governed and built by the community, and is a very interesting social experiment which has decentralised governance. Anyone can come into this space and create experiences.”
Gwendall Esnault, Founder and CEO of Metahood, added: “The fact that it’s not bound by the laws of physics also enables it to get much greater value than physical real estate. You can’t put more than 10 people in a room but in the digital space you can put as any people as you want, millions of people in a singular area.”
Back to the real world, where space constraints are all too real, Tim Bannister, Director of Property Science and Innovation at Rightmove, discussed evolving trends within the housing market over the past two years. With energy prices skyrocketing, people may be unsurprised to know that ‘bills included’ was one of the top searched terms this summer.
The learning did not stop there. Before lunch, delegates were treated to case studies of real world uses of tech, and after, roundtable discussions covering everything from social media marketing to the impact of interest rate rises.
CEO of Castle Green Homes Gwyn Jones then explained how they built up the largest Instagram following of any developer, before giving way to a panel session on the latest frontier in sustainability: biodiversity.
Rebecca Moberly, Principal Consultant- Environment at the Planning Advisory Service, urged businesses to be looking at Biodiversity Net Gain in advance of the 2023 deadline in order to ensure the most effective and cost-effective practices: “My advice would be to get thinking really early about this, get landscape architects and ecologists engaged at the master planning stage. Otherwise it’s much harder to deliver biodiversity net gain on-site.”
Nina Pindham, Barrister at No5 Chambers warned about some of the complexities and difficulties that lie behind the metrics: “It’s as objective as possible but it requires subjective input. One of the leading experts at the University of Kent found expert grassland ecologists and gave them the exact same site and there was no agreement between them on the site. The government are committed to hiring local ecological experts but there’s going to be a backlog.”
Working from home may be seen as a bigger threat to the commercial property industry, but the rise of flexible working also poses challenges for the residential property industry from a talent retention perspective, as Peter Flade of All In argued in the day’s final session.
After networking drinks around Rosetta Stone and a dinner in the Norman Foster courtyard at the British Museum the night before, RESi360 reconvened for its second day back at the Royal Lancaster Hotel.
In a heartfelt talk, Goscombe Group’s Founder Alistair Wickens called for a reorientation of business values and encourages businesses to think more about how they can contribute to wider society, using the Patagonia brand as a model of clever business practice insofar as they prioritise purpose over profit: “Every decision, every action we take, every pound we spend. We always stop before we do that and think ‘will this make the world a better place?’ That’s what we aspire to. Why do businesses exist? Is it to create profit or to create community value? What is it that we can all do?”
This was a perfect runway for David Willock, Managing Director - ESG Finance at Lloyds Bank, to discuss the green financing landscape. He explained “there’s been big growth in sustainable finance propositions and a step up of standards. There’s been an incredible focus on carbon but what does ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’ mean?… Standards are going up and it’s leading to tighter policies which we’ll see being pushed down the supply chain.”
This was followed by a discussion on regeneration. Paul Edwards, Director, Industrial and Asset Management at Legal & General, said the key to success was community creation and blended uses. Otherwise “it’s going to fail”.
This was echoed by British Land development director Symon Bacon, who explained the FTSE100 firm’s approach to community engagement for its mega Canada Water regeneration. “People in the community were dockers. Why not call the streets and the parks and squares something around this heritage? It’s about linking with the local community. We had 5 years of local engagement with over 5,000 unique individuals engaged.”
The theme of community continued in the next panel on build-to-rent. Rory Cranmer, CEO & Co-founder at HomeViews argued the focus on community was a key differentiator for the sector: “Some of the big challenges in Build to Sell is the owners are paying service charges and also dealing with ongoing managing systems. Where BTR steps in is in creating this sense of community that is really missing. Some of the top rated buildings on HomeViews are really well run from a community perspective. It’s not always about throwing the kitchen sink at facilities and amenities.”
The day ended on the investment outlook. Shamez Alibhani, Head of Community Housing at Man Group was confident that while “we cannot escape gravity forever” and we may see a “slow grind” in the housing market, we won’t see a crash in capital values.
He was joined by Jason Constable, Head of Real Estate at Barclays, who argued “when markets become fractured it brings opportunity and it’s how the housing market adapts - and there’s not as much distress as the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.”
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