These are highly unusual times by anyone’s standards. We are all trying to plan for the future in an environment where we do not know what tomorrow will bring. We need to use this time to drive the change that will see us come out of this crisis securely.
Real estate was already in need of a radical reshaping. All it took to confirm this was a walk down any high street or, increasingly, any globally recognised shopping destination, where space-to-let signs gathered dust.
Now, the workplace will also need a refresh as concepts such as the ‘six-foot-office’, wider stairways, better access to green public spaces and fresh air become more important.
Unfortunately, while there is demand from the public and occupiers for real estate use to match our evolving habits, and eagerness from developers to meet it, we are currently not able to act anywhere near quickly enough.
We finally achieved planning permission last week for a development at 17-22 South Audley Street, a 48,000 sq ft site in Mayfair that we acquired more than four years ago. To emerge from this crisis on solid ground and achieve the growth needed, we need to be able to adjust real estate use much more quickly. We need to act now.
Policies that are not fit for purpose in the world we operate in increasingly threaten the success of the sector.
To address this, we need a unified planning body that enables the industry to move with the changing landscape and create spaces that will benefit future generations. We need to ensure that this authority is adequately resourced, both now and in the longer term, to implement these changes and support growth.
We also need to ensure that it attracts and retains the best talent so that targets remain consistent and that local and wider issues are addressed and recognised.
Property has had its share of negative headlines, but the majority of us go into the industry because we want to help build a better landscape.
The current London Plan calls for the construction of 42,389 new homes a year across the city – a target that has never been met. Plans and red tape that stymie this growth in a city as innovative as London are, to an extent, be to blame for missed targets and struggling sectors.
We know from the 2008 financial crash that an economic shock can cause profound and sustained damage to the housing market and the delivery of new homes. We need to avoid this happening once again, and to do this we need a unified authority to work across all London boroughs to develop a recovery plan that will ensure the sector not only bounces back but also improves its long-term resilience.
Those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Thankfully, global governance learned from the lessons of the crash and was more prepared to tackle the financial challenges of the current crisis; this has allowed government bodies to focus their efforts on the most important issue at hand: our health.
However, in one important way we are in uncharted territory. Virtually everything has had to be paused, and for a lot of sectors, there is no market in the current environment.
We cannot predict what the market will look like when we do emerge from this, but without the ability to implement the changes needed at planning level, we risk creating another situation where everything needs to come to a halt because we have not been able to adjust swiftly enough.
Jonathan Goldstein is chief executive of Cain International