The great and the good of the residential world gathered at Celtic Manor in south Wales this week for what was a real corker of a RESI Conference.
We worked hard on the content and speaker line-up and it showed, with the heavyweight cast including former Bank of England MPC member Dr Andrew Sentance; former Labour chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling; minister of state for housing and planning Brandon Lewis; and, fittingly ahead of the Rugby World Cup, former World Cup and Dancing on Ice winner Kyran Bracken, who kicked off proceedings with some entertaining anecdotes about his career. Bracken now has a career in property with Hybrid Houses, but he wasn’t there to talk about the resi market. That was left to our property experts.
The highlights of RESI were many. I was surprised Dr Sentance took such a bullish stance on the potential impact of China’s economic woes and that a higher percentage of people now own their homes outright than have mortgages. I loved the “informal chat”, between masterful conference host and chair Mark Easton and a surprisingly relaxed former chancellor, who, although non-committal on whether he thought Jeremy Corbyn would win the Labour leadership contest, was forthcoming when asked about his proposal to extend Right to Buy to the private sector, arguing it was not the solution to the problem we’ve got - namely not enough houses in the first place.
Particularly for Generation Rent, which was a recurring theme at RESI, one that James Scott of the Collective threw into sharp relief when he declared his generation was less and less concerned about possessions and more and more about experiences. Call me a cynic - I’m not convinced that all ‘rentysomethings’ will be quite so enamoured of flexibility come their thirties and forties when they have families to think about.
But with the supply of affordable homes non-existent in some areas, what choice do they have? Could the “radical” panellists in our Big Debate come up with some solutions? Yes, they could. Concessions on space standards, for one, so smaller, cheaper homes can be brought forward; understanding what the private sector can deliver, for another; and getting government to commit to a big housebuilding programme. As Kate Davies of Notting Hill Housing added, there also needs to be a change in public opinion; we shouldn’t have to wait, as she provocatively put it, for the social housing equivalent of a “dead baby on the beach” for social tenants to be seen as acceptable.
And the momentum didn’t let up on the final day. Lewis didn’t disappoint with a robust defence of the government’s housing policy in the face of some probing questions from Easton, particularly on permitted development rights. He maintained the government was focused on boosting supply as well as demand, although the prospect of green belt being released sounds slim. “I wouldn’t get your hopes up,” he said. Don’t worry, we won’t.