A more upbeat pre-holiday feeling at the end of 2020 was soon dispelled by the news of more contagious Covid-19 variants and we faced a far bleaker start to 2021 than anticipated.
However, I am cautiously optimistic that a successful vaccine rollout will enable the government and all economic sectors to turn their attention to rebuilding and recovery. The government and actors in the UK economy can’t do this without the property sector.
We are a critical partner to the government, our customers and the communities we invest in. That investment shapes the physical fabric of this country, supporting most, if not all, businesses and the quality of life in local communities, and will underpin the government’s ambition to build back better.
Given the way the government has not only failed to support the sector but has acted against its interests in the past few months, it would be easy to say it does not understand us. I don’t agree – but I do think it can take us for granted and assume that not only will we be resilient in a crisis, but whatever the impact of that crisis, investment will continue to be attracted into UK property.
That thinking led to the moratorium on evictions – that and the unwelcome truth for all of us who are proud to be part of the property sector that not all landlords were behaving responsibly and seeking to support tenants in distress.
However, the government is very aware that some tenants are also behaving badly, with financially sophisticated businesses undermining our sector’s support and abusing an emergency intervention intended for the most vulnerable. The moratorium was rushed and knee-jerk, but after it ends, this abuse will be remembered for much longer.
We must keep our eye on the big picture. Not only are different parts of the market reshaping themselves in light of Covid-19 but many of the policy and legislative fundamentals underpinning our sector are up for debate, from the planning white paper to reviews of landlord-tenant legislation and rights, as well as business rates and building safety.
And the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow later this year will throw the spotlight on our sector as one of the world’s major carbon emitters.
There is significant opportunity to take responsibility and provide leadership, to be seen and treated as a partner, to the benefit of our businesses, customers, communities and the planet.
The BPF’s Real Estate Social Impact Report, launched in December, showed how seriously our members take their responsibilities, with case studies portraying how since March 2020 our sector has supported customers, residents, charities, communities, the NHS and young homeless people through LandAid.
We need to build on this to showcase an industry committed to delivering on its long-term promise to create positive change, and to enhance the vital role we play in underpinning social wellbeing. That commitment will be much needed in 2021 and beyond.
Melanie Leech is chief executive of the British Property Federation