Press Release: Time for action on the private rented sector, says New London Sounding Board

Monday 31 October 2011

Housing needs fresh stimuli – both economic and in terms of high level backing for the private rented sector – if it is to avoid taking a ‘serious tumble’ in the next few years, even from its precarious current position.

That was one of the key findings from the latest meeting of the NLA’s sounding board, which urged that PRS needs a concerted lobby group to push its merits. The meeting also addressed housing, design review and the problems facing London’s high streets. The key findings are below: 

Housing
 

The GLA’s interim executive director for housing and regeneration, David Lunts, presented a report on housing, supported by architect Ben Derbyshire, who was enlarging on his recent blogs that call on policymakers to recognise that a well-regulated, consumer-orientated private rented sector (PRS) is a social good.

The private rented sector needs a powerful lobby to give it the impetus it needs and make government and institutional investors sit up and take notice.

Although the PRS market is to some extent ‘alive and kicking’, supply could be accelerated, the sector could become more professionalised and moves could be made to better attract institutional fund investment into the area. 

Although there had been ‘some progress’ with big institutional funders such as Aviva following the HCA’s launch of a PRS initiative led by former chief executive Sir Bob Kerslake, thus far there was little in the way of hard activity. Exceptions to this were the 555-home Berkeley Homes scheme, a fund to build private rented schemes across 10 sites in the capital progressed thanks to Kickstart funding in 2009, and the 2012 Athletes’ Village.

But, said Lunts, the fundamental obstacles remain a ‘sceptical and to some extent rather ignorant institutional world that really doesn’t want to get itself embroiled in the risky world of property development.’ They would sit up and notice, however, ‘if we have scale and if we have product’, so the 2800-unit Athletes’ Village will help by signalling that there is sufficient interest.

Lunts expects to see more stimuli for housing supply emerge; otherwise it will take a ‘serious tumble, even from where it is, over the next two or three years.’

Derbyshire said housing represented a serious political challenge, and needed a championing figure for PRS such as the airline industry has with EasyJet’s Stelios Haji-Ioannou – EasyLet, perhaps

Pocket director Mark Vlessing said a resolution to the ‘chronically undersupplied’ housing market will not happen through the private capital markets. ‘It’s going to happen through the provision of public land that is brought to the market by joined up politicians, who between their property services, planning and housing departments have decided that they want to see a certain amount of supply targeted at the private rented market.’ If this happened in reasonable numbers then the exemplars created, assisted by the GLA, might persuade investors.

Sounding board chairman Michael Cassidy proposed that there was a role for a group to lobby political parties to get the concessions needed to make PRS happen ‘Where are all these folk banging the table, saying ‘give us this’?’ 

Design Review
 

The Sounding Board also heard from Peter Bishop, who has presented his review into the future of design review to Design Council CABE, plus Design for London’s Mark Brearley and Grosvenor’s Jenefer Greenwood on the challenges and opportunities facing London’s High Streets. 

Bishop said that that the landscape was very different now – of a government legislation programme focusing on economic growth, planning reform and the localism agenda, but against a background of little public finances over the next decade. Amid a general squeeze on everything, design can be seen as a luxury or cost, said Bishop, and the narrowness of CABE’s escape from abolition showed that the importance of design remained something to be won afresh with each change of ministers.  

‘If one was to scrap design review as a methodology, what kind of message would that send in terms of the importance of design in this country?’ asked Bishop.

He added that the situation on design review in London is ‘very confusing’. But Design Council CABE, said its head of policy and programmes Rachel Fisher, is keen to address accusations of its ‘London-centricity’.

Town centres
 ·      

Brearley said London outside the centre was not performing strongly but high streets are becoming a key part of the city’s areas of opportunity, with over half of London’s developable land in outer London. Consequently, they are gaining timely financial support and policy from City Hall. 

Greenwood said the high street today is faced with a convergence of factors – a harsh economic climate, the rise of out-of-town retail and growth of internet shopping. There is an oversupply of retail across the UK, yet much of the secondary stock is not vacant, but obsolete. ‘But there are opportunities’, she said, ‘and ours is to masterplan and to bring those secondary and tertiary areas back into different economic life. That has to be taken.’  

Notes:

1. The latest meeting of the NLA’s sounding board – an elite group which gathers each quarter to debate the capital’s pressing built environment issues – took place on 29 September 2011. 

2. For further information/comment on any of the above, please contact NLA chairman Peter Murray on (07803) 294432 

3. The third sounding board meeting was attended by: 
Steven Bee, Founder, Steven Bee Consulting 
Mark Brearley, Director, Design for London 
Michael Cassidy CBE, Chairman, Museum of London and Board Member, Crossrail (Chairman) 
Miles Delap, Partner, Gardiner & Theobald 
Ben Derbyshire, Director, HTA 
Jennifer Dixon, Partner, Austin-Smith:Lord 
Dr Gev Eduljee, Public Affairs Director, SITA UK 
Robert Evans, Executive Director, Argent 
Peter Eversden, Chairman, London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies 
Sir Terry Farrell, Founding Partner, Terry Farrell & Partners 
Robert Gordon Clark, Chairman, LCA 
Jenefer Greenwood, Director Sales & Lettings, Grosvenor 
Pat Hayes, Executive Director of Regeneration and Housing, LB Ealing 
Peter Heath, Technical Director, Public Realm, Atkins 
Michael Lowndes, Director, Turley Associates 
Rosemarie MacQueen, Strategic Director Built Environment, Westminster City Council Paul Monaghan, Director, AHMM 
Peter Murray, Chairman, NLA 
Richard Powell, Planning and Development Director, Capco 
Mark Prior, Group Head of Transportation, EC Harris 
Peter Rees, City Planning Officer, City of London Corporation 
Sam Richards, Head of Urban Integration, Crossrail 
Stuart Robinson, Head of Planning, CBRE 
David Shaw, Head of Regent Street Portfolio, The Crown Estate 
Stephen Tapper, Assistant Director Placeshaping and Enterprise, London Borough of Enfield 
Alex Tosetti, Operations Director, URS Scott Wilson 
Tony Travers, Director, LSE London 
Jo van Heyningen, Partner, van Heyningen & Haward 
Marc Vlessing, Director, Pocket 
Ed Watson, Assistant Director Planning and Public Protection, LB Camden 
Colin Wilson, Head of Planning Decisions, Greater London Authority 
Guest Contributors 
Rachel Fisher, Head of Policy & Programmes, Design Council CABE 
David Lunts, Interim Executive Director – Housing and Regeneration, GLA

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