Alan Cherry Debate 2018

Five top takeaways from the Alan Cherry Debate 2018

Named after Countryside’s late founder, the annual Countryside Alan Cherry Debate has become a highlight of the housebuilding calendar. This year’s event was extra special: hosted at Landing 42 in the Leadenhall Building, the debate formed part of Countryside’s 60th anniversary celebrations, and fittingly the panel looked ahead to the next 60 months, exploring the policies needed to increase the supply of housing, the impact of changing workforce supply on the industry and the London Plan.

Moderated by BBC News Presenter, Huw Edwards, the panel included; James Murray, Deputy Mayor of Housing and Residential Development at the Mayor of London; Melanie Leech, Chief Executive at the British Property Federation; Kate Davies, Chief Executive at Notting Hill Genesis; Professor Tony Travers, Director of LSE London, Natalie Elphicke, Chief Executive at the Housing & Finance Institute and Ian Sutcliffe, Group Chief Executive, Countryside. 

Here are our top takeaways from the debate:

Relieving overstretched planning departments

An online survey sent to all guests before the debate found that improving the resourcing of local authority planning departments was the most highly desired policy change to enable home builders to increase the supply of housing in the UK.

The panel agreed, noting the migration of the best planners from local authority to private sector work, and emphasising how crucial it is that planners and planning departments are given more resources in order to mitigate this. However, it was also noted a lot of the debate around planning distracts from the big picture, and that as a result a much more fundamental review of the planning system is required. 

Making the case for development

The panel was united in expressing the need for developers and councils to better explain the benefits of regeneration and housebuilding, and the more local the level for this, the better. Existing residents often fear new developments will damage the value of their home, and so it is up to developers and government to convince communities of the benefits of living in a thriving community, with the new homes, shops and jobs that development brings.

Tony Travers suggested that areas that take development should be rewarded, whether through a council tax break for residents or ensuring S106 contributions are visibly spent in the same neighbourhood. 

Technology

For an industry that requires consistency and pace, technology could be the great potential unblocker. Attracting skilled workers was recognised as a key issue holding back delivery of new homes, so taking production off site could prove vital. The point was made though, that in a highly cyclical industry such as construction, there needs to be some degree of national leadership to ensure collaboration for optimum results. 

Migration, migration, migration

The panel was anxious about the lack of clarity over the government’s future immigration policies, as combatting the shortage of skilled construction workers depends on ease of immigration and international workers feeling welcome in the UK. While it was agreed that more UK nationals need to be recruited into the industry, along with more female workers, over half of Countryside’s London workforce is from the EU, and such workers cannot be simply replaced with trainees. Consequently, the panel was hopeful that the construction industry will be able to lobby successfully to keep welcoming workers from overseas.

It was also argued that if housing is as important to the government’s priorities as has been made out, that needs to be reflected across the government agenda, including immigration. This will be vital in allowing councils to make the most of their newly lifted borrowing cap. 

London Plan

While the panel appreciated the aims behind the London Plan, they remained in no doubt of the challenge that building homes poses in the current market. The importance of getting the London boroughs, central government, and housebuilders on side, as well as London residents, will be crucial in determining whether the plan becomes a success.