London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) recently brought together two key players in the ongoing housing debate – Tony Pidgley CBE, chairman of The Berkeley Group plc and Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of the Council, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham – to put their views to 150 business leaders and owners ranging from architects and planners to real estate lawyers and small developers.
Tony Pidgley spoke about the issues impacting the housing sector and the barriers to delivering the homes that Londoners need. Among his concerns was the lack of skilled labour within the construction sector that he believed would be exacerbated by Brexit. His company had begun to tackle this issue by building a modular housing factory that would speed up production of homes while not impacting on quality. The Berkeley Group chairman added that political leadership, the bureaucratic planning system, and delay to Crossrail were challenges facing the house-building sector.
Cllr Rodwell gave his views on the current state of the housing market in the capital and spoke passionately about the urgent need to deliver affordable housing. The Council Comparative Rent scheme, aimed at residents struggling to get on the housing ladder, would provide secure tenancies at 80 per cent of market rent levels. He believed that local government needed the tools to deliver housing and infrastructure that Londoners need – echoing LCCI’s policy that further devolution to the capital is required. In the ensuing debate chaired by LCCI chief executive Colin Stanbridge, Pidgley emphasised that SME developers had an important role to play in the housing market but that access to finance remained a barrier to their growth and development. There was, he said, an urgent need to review the Metropolitan Green Belt as specified in the recommendations in the LCCI’s Brown for Blue report which called for specialist housing for London’s emergency services workers.
Cllr Rodwell pointed out that a lack of skilled staff remained a constraint to house-building in the capital. There needed to be a shift in focus away from traditional academic qualifications to apprenticeships. There had to be, he said, a better understanding of career opportunities in the construction sector. In the Q&A session Rodwell answered a question from Simon Neate, LCCI property and construction committee chairman on cuts in local authority budgets and their impact on the resources of local planning departments with the assertion that 260,000 additional homes already had planning permission in London. Mark Collins of CBRE and a former committee chairman, asked what more could be done to support SME developers. Pidgley reiterated previous comments that access to finance remained a significant challenge and called on the banks to do more.
It was clear from the debate that more must be done to tackle the housing crisis – one of the biggest challenges of our generation. However, there was a recognition that this crisis was multifaceted in nature while acknowledging that there was not a silver bullet to resolving it. Colin Stanbridge said that LCCI would continue to lobby both City Hall and Parliament on behalf of the sector on issues raised while the property and construction committee would also provide a platform for members to advise LCCI and help influence policy-makers.
Simon Dishman, Policy Manager, LCCI
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