With the housing market facing the toughest market conditions in a decade, this year’s RESi360 conference at the Royal Lancaster London hotel promised to deliver a lively debate – and it didn’t disappoint.
In her opening address, civil servant Emma Fraser, director for housing markets and strategy at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), caused murmurs among delegates when she insisted that the government’s 300,000-new-homes-a-year target still stands and housing targets and supply were “front and centre” among government priorities.
“The secretary of state recently recommitted to that 300,000-homes target,” she told delegates. “I want to be really clear that it has not been downgraded. To hit that by 2025 is clearly challenging. However, that remains the government’s housing target.”
Fraser added that government changes to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, now being debated in parliament, would help bring community support for housing development by encouraging more investment in infrastructure and services. Fraser said this could “change the way the British public thinks about development”.
She also discussed the Renters Reform Bill and the importance of ensuring quality and security for tenants. Fraser said that despite concerns about the proposed bill, there was “very little evidence of landlords leaving the sector”, a statement that led to visible headshaking among audience members.
Solving the crisis
Speaking on a panel debate titled ‘The C-Suite Barometer: What Now, What Next?’, senior industry executives said that big reforms were needed to ease the housing crisis.
Kathryn Pennington, divisional special projects director at housebuilder Countryside Partnerships, said politicians and citizens needed a “call to arms” to step up and solve the housing crisis. She added that “310,000 children shared a bed last night and 110,000 households are in temporary accommodation – that’s something we are all responsible for”.
We just need to build more homes and affordability will sort itself out
Clare Miller, Clarion
Fellow panellist Marc Vlessing, founder and chief executive of Pocket Living, said the UK political system did not help. He suggested proportional representation (PR) would reduce “the pressures of Nimbyism”, as evidenced by better housing supply figures in Germany and France, which have PR.
”Unless we take seriously the need to reform our country at a superstructure level, we are not going to make any progress over the next 10 years. Targets will never be met,” he said.
The residential sector’s role in meeting the government target to achieve net zero by 2050 was the subject of the Building Greener panel session.
Stephen Wightman, director and modern methods of construction (MMC) lead at Faithful+Gould, said modular housebuilding still had an important contribution to make to the green construction agenda, despite recent business failures in the sector.
“Statistically, an MMC business is less likely to go bust in the construction space than a traditional construction business,” he said. ”There are some incredibly successful MMC businesses out there. This pendulum has to swing one way to swing back. It will settle at a point where we’re delivering the right funds, in the right ways, from the right producers.”
Greencore Homes chief executive Jon Di-Stefano agreed, claiming recent MMC business failures had happened “because they’ve tried to go to scale really quickly”.
Ronan Leyden, director of consultancy at sustainability specialist Bioregional, said that delivering greener homes would require adopting new technologies and finding the right skilled labour to install them.
Chris Doré, business development director at residential utilities specialist TriConnex, added that “education of the purchaser is going to be key” in adopting these new technologies.
Later in the day, at a panel on alternative housing options, there were differences of opinion over whether younger generations truly accepted that becoming a “long-time renter” was an acceptable alternative to home ownership.
Speaker Shiro Rauniar, co-founder of The Developers Club, said renting was seen as the norm for “the Deliveroo generation”. But Kush Rawal, executive director of customer services at affordable housing provider MTVH, said that while renting had a place, it was “really, really important we don’t shut down other options”.
Day two of the conference opened with a somewhat gloomy prediction from Zoopla executive director Richard Donnell, who told delegates the housing sector was “set for a tricky two or three years” as the UK adjusted to higher borrowing costs.
He predicted house sales would fall around 20% year on year to one million in 2023 and were likely to remain similarly depressed next year.
The day also included a number of case studies. During the session ‘Harnessing the Power of Joint Ventures’, Paul Clark, co-founder and chief investment officer of socially responsible property developer Stories, talked about how the industry could best combine land, money and human resources to achieve positive change.
He was followed by Tim Heatley, co-founder of Capital & Centric, who discussed the challenges and opportunities for his firm’s regeneration projects.
He also explained the work of this year’s conference charity partner Regeneration Brainery, a non-profit academy he founded to offer young people workshops and work experience opportunities in the property and regeneration sector.
The conference ended with RESi360’s inaugural Town Hall event, during which eight housing experts and developers discussed key issues and lessons learnt from the event.
Boosting levels of skilled labour in the sector through education and increasing diversity were among the topics homed in on by participants including Elixr founder and chairman Joseph Daniels and Chapman Taylor Architects UK board director Michael Swiszczowski.
Unsurprisingly, the discussions came back to politics, with Capital & Centric’s Heatley calling for “central-government-funded affordable homes” and for government to “switch off” Right to Buy.
He added: “The housing waiting list is almost identical to the number of houses purchased with Right to Buy, and we’re just not building [enough] new housing.”
Clarion Housing Group chief executive Clare Miller added: “We just need to build more homes and affordability will sort itself out. But we need to build at scale and just haven’t done that. Everybody has a responsibility to increase their efforts, whether that’s local authorities, housing associations or new entrants into the market or people who’ve been in the market for decades. Government needs to provide the plan and the funding.”