Some said it was sheer madness to attempt it – and I think I speak for all the Property Week team involved in RESI when I say we were bricking it on Tuesday morning as we prepared to kick off our first fully virtual two-day event during a national lockdown.
But you know what? It was worth the blood, sweat and tears (was planning a tiers gag, but got overtaken by events). Against the odds, it was one of the best RESI Conventions ever.
The event got off to a cracking start, day one highlights including RESI XTRA sessions on alternative residential and digital transformation and the celebration of the 2020 cohort of RESI Trailblazers. Then, on day two, came the session everyone was waiting for: the keynote address from secretary of state for housing Robert Jenrick.
Normally I would gauge the mood of the room here, but there was no physical room to gauge the mood of. Judging from some of the responses from delegates, though, it went down better than some of his predecessors’ keynotes. While there was lots of crowd-pleasing rhetoric about being “resolute that the housing market needed to be kept open at this very difficult time” and how the industry was “both the backbone and the heart of an economy”, there was certainly more substance than usual.
Jenrick promised that the government’s proposed infrastructure levy would simplify the system and said the new “streamlined and transparent system” would be “a welcome break from the merry-go-round of negotiations and renegotiations that render our current system so inefficient”. He also talked of the need to “embed commonhold as a more established tenure” and pledged to “fundamentally reform leaseholds” to cut out unnecessary costs, uncertainty and complexity.
But some issues were conspicuous by their absence. By this point in the conference, there had been lots of talk about the rental market, with Savills’ Lawrence Bowles predicting that more people would turn to the PRS because of the difficulty of getting mortgages. Quizzed on why he had barely mentioned BTR, Jenrick gave a tepid reply about how he had done lots to protect renters’ rights but no answers about how he intends to help the rental sector grow.
Unsurprisingly, his keynote met with a mixed response. Pocket Living’s Marc Vlessing, who was speaking on the CEO panel that followed, said: “I don’t think this is a government that can lay claim to having reformed planning and housing unless they do tackle that tension [in the planning system]. And frankly, the Conservative government that is not able to deliver far more homes for the first-time buyer market is pretty much unelectable.”
Speaking on the same panel, Crest Nicholson’s Peter Truscott was equally underwhelmed by government planning policy. “It’s a lot of rhetoric and often not really a lot of change,” he said. “You only need to look at the level of regulation and how not only this government but governments before have tackled this. They’ve always taken the approach of sledgehammer to crack a nut. I remain sceptical that this or any government at this moment in time can actually deliver on those promises.”
Others, however, were far more positive. “I really welcome the quite radical things that he and this government are trying to do,” said Savills’ Dominic Grace.
As do I. If only they didn’t have the wrecking balls of Covid-19 and Brexit to contend with.