Amidst the plethora of bad news, last week was the announcement that the UK economy is almost certainly back in recession, one which is likely to last until at least 2024 – the longest recession since records began. But it could be worse. The predictions are that the economy will only shrink by 2.9%, far less than the 6.1% we experienced during the 2008 crash. That is relatively good news for the development industry which really suffered in 2008, but it is bad news for the Conservative Government because it means that when the election comes, the memory of the recession will be fresh.
It doesn’t take a miracle worker to realise that the Government are in a bit of a pickle. Their preferred approach is, I suspect, to follow Michael Gove’s advice from his recent speech to the London Press Awards where he suggested the Government should have an “utter determination to try to be as dull as possible”- trying to keep out of the news headlines whilst getting on with competent delivery.
However, they shouldn’t be quiet on housing and development, although I would urge a slight change in tack. It is really frustrating working with developers, seeing them hone Section 106 agreements for road improvements and contributions to schools and local health services, only to then hear local leaders just repeating resident accusations about the current state of the roads and the lack of school places. Cratus’ strapline ‘Our World is Local’ is right as far as recovering from a recession is concerned; growth has to be encouraged and enabled at a local level and that requires the development industry and local government to work better together, to try and end the conflict between the national demand for new homes and the local resistance to development. MPs and senior councillors could help in two ways; the first is to be more positive about developer contributions; making sure that residents are aware of the infrastructure contributions that developers will make to offset the impact of their work, rather than staying silent or – even worse – simply repeating the resident voice when they know that developer contribution will happen.
The second is for politicians to be more vocal about the positive role that development can play in local communities. At a time when pubs are closing and high streets are struggling, development can help to sustain both. Similarly in several areas, we are seeing cuts to bus services, when properly designed schemes can increase passenger numbers. It would be good to see local conversations about these issues fronted by local leaders – and if they were willing to play a more positive role, they might actually help us emerge from a recession that bit quicker and that much stronger.
I am sure there will be some that will say the level of S106 contributions is not sufficient, or that developers should do more. To them I would say that if there was genuine planning reform that increased the certainty of outcomes from planning applications, it would improve the investment decisions that the development industry would make, enabling them to contribute more.
If you would like to find out abut Cratus Planning get in touch with Martin Curtis