Forget about the winter of discontent. This has been the year of discontent.
Among the many forgotten victims are office occupiers and landlords. Now, as well as having to contend with having to continue paying rent on offices not in use or not being able to recover rent on empty premises, many are also losing out in the business rates postcode lottery.
The problem is that the government is so distracted not just by what everyone hopes is the final act of the Covid crisis (what with all the vaccines on order) but also the final act of the Brexit saga that everything else, however important, has slipped down the agenda.
The plight of office occupiers and landlords is one such issue. Landlords, in particular, continue to get it in the neck, which is bizarre when you think that pension funds invest in these companies, so people’s pensions are on the line. The reality, though, is that most people don’t see the connection between landlords and their pensions, so the government can turn a blind eye – and hand the ticking timebomb over to the next administration to try to defuse.
The climate crisis is a different story. When we held our Climate Crisis Challenge Virtual Event in June, the big question was whether the pandemic would accelerate or derail the climate agenda. The unanimous verdict was that the net-zero-carbon tipping point had been reached; there was no turning back. Five months on, can the same be said?
On the face of it, the government’s ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’, announced this week, would suggest the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. But while there were lots of bold statements of intent, solar power was conspicuous by its absence, there wasn’t a whole lot that was new and, tellingly, a lot of the big investments mentioned had vague timelines, timelines in the mid-2020s and beyond or no timelines at all. No wonder the government was accused of “dithering and delay” by ilke Homes’ David Sheridan.
Ultimately, even if the government’s intentions are good, we all know what the road to hell is paved with. The challenge is turning those good intentions into tangible actions. To mark what should have been the end of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26 – and with it the end of our Climate Crisis Challenge – we asked the key protagonists in our challenge how much progress they think the industry has made and assessed the impact of the pandemic on the climate agenda.
We also asked Broken Homes author and regular PW columnist Peter Bill for his verdict. Pulling no punches, Bill bemoans all the virtue signalling going on. Others are more upbeat. Argent Related partner André Gibbs notes that we are in a very different place to where we were in 2008, when the global financial crisis torpedoed the then nascent sustainability agenda.
Climate change is now higher up the agenda than anyone could have dared hope back then. We have a lot to thank Greta Thunberg for and, at the tail end of 2020, the US election outcome has brought renewed cause for optimism, with president-elect Joe Biden promising to rejoin the Paris Agreement. But there is another critical difference between now and 2008, says Gibbs: “It’s difficult for people to bullshit their way out of the science these days.”
In his last weeks in office, Donald Trump will no doubt keep trying.