Could rethinking our cities help to address the housing crisis?

We recently attended ‘The Future of Real Estate Summit’ in Liverpool. Hosted by Estates Gazette, the broad agenda discussed everything from affordable housing and the impact of HS2, to the positive returns of investing in culture and digitisation.

It quickly became clear that cities have a vital role to play in addressing the housing crisis and attracting investment for New Build developments. Here are just some of the talking points from the day’s events…

The housing crisis cannot be solved simply by building more houses 

The fact that the housing crisis cannot be solved in isolation was a key topic of discussion. With a general consensus that addressing this issue isn’t just about building more houses, it’s about creating spaces where businesses and housing projects can coexist and thrive.  

To succeed in attracting businesses, retaining talent and attracting investment for housing and commercial projects, there are a number of factors cities need to get right – from investing in digital infrastructure (such as fibre and broadband) to creating a strong cultural identity and “sense of place”. 

There also needs to be a focus on supporting transport links across the city, through the provision of buses and efficient road networks – so people can travel to local jobs just as easily as they can travel outside the city on motorways and trains. 

By embracing these opportunities, cities can not only offer more housing, they can make sure that homes and businesses are filled with people who can contribute to the growth and success of the area. In turn, this will attract more businesses, more people, and even more investors willing and able to invest in commercial and residential property. 

Where cities are getting this right, everyone stands to benefit – from estate agents having more properties to work with, to conveyancers winning more new business. The key is for everyone to communicate with one another regularly, so that all businesses can be primed to take advantage of new opportunities as they come into the city. 

Liverpool offer a fantastic example of this – especially the way they’ve been “riding the wave” of winning European Capital of Culture in 2008 to drive growth and investment over the last decade. 

The UK continues to attract foreign investors – but cities must play their part in ensuring they offer a recognisable and attractive offering

The impact of Brexit couldn’t be overlooked, and there was a sense of optimism in the room as Susan Caldwell from the Department for Trade & Investment said: “The UK continues to attract foreign investors who see the UK as a stable, regulated environment with a strong legal system. This is supported by the fact that it takes on average of just 13 days to set up a business in the UK.”

For individual cities to benefit however, County Councils must present themselves in a way that the investment community recognises. This requires a focused approach of identifying 2 to 3 areas where the city could attract investment – and then promoting these opportunities as early as possible. For example, by including the proposition in brochures for overseas investors. 

Showing a willingness to not only find the right investor, but to be flexible in working together can also help to move projects forward in a way that benefits everyone. It is equally important that these conversations extend to the conveyancers and estate agents involved, so they are primed to manage the influx in work – and the local community can make use of any new space as quickly as possible. 

We must rethink how we use failing retail space to help address the housing shortage

Land use is an ongoing challenge across the UK, with careful thought and planning needed to strike a positive balance of commercial and residential space. However, the shift towards online shopping has resulted in the UK simply having too much retail space.  

With the country crying out for more housing, we can’t afford to leave this space empty – and mixed-use space is set to become the norm as investors look to make the most return on their property by supplying housing and offices, alongside the preservation of some retail space. 

Diversity is key to developing cities that support different lifestyles and generations 

Diversification isn’t just about creating different types of homes, it’s also about thinking about how spaces work to support different lifestyles and generations within the same city. For example, making sure there are residential properties situated near bars and restaurants, but also in quieter areas with parks and schools. 

This is where estate agents and conveyancers also have a role to play in sharing their knowledge of the local area. By identifying a strong demand for retirement properties (for example), they can help to support a strong case for an investment opportunity, whilst also addressing the real needs of people in that particular city. 

Sometimes, creating a thriving city is also about pushing back on prime investment opportunities for “yet another tower block” and thinking about what gives an area life. A key example of this is Boxpark Croydon that helped to give new life to the area by engaging the community and creating a strong sense of place. 

Entirely constructed out of refitted shipping containers, Boxpark also highlighted the potential of alternative building processes and materials – and  raised the question of exploring new building methods to meet the challenge of providing affordable housing.

The public and private sectors can work together to regenerate cities

A key point reiterated across ‘The Future of Real Estate Summit’ was the scope for collaboration, and the benefit this can bring to everyone who embraces it.

There are ample opportunities for the private and public sector to work together that private investors must take advantage of. A key example of this way HS2. Whilst it is undoubtedly an enabler of change, it is up to the local councils and businesses to collaborate to make the most of these opportunities, as Tom Venner, Head of Property Development, High Speed 2 (HS2) commented: “Developers shouldn’t be afraid to collaborate with the Government to help unlock the potential in an area, as there are huge opportunities for growth. The Government are willing and able to work with Developers to help solve housing issues – and the people, skills and money are there to unlock these opportunities.”  

As the conference came to a close, it was hard to ignore the passion in the room, as well as the opportunities that await if we choose to move forward together to create places that not only exist, but thrive. 

Want to have your say?

Why not join our Property Hubs taking place this July across Northampton, Liverpool, Leeds, Southampton, Bristol and Cardiff. Or get in touch about hosting one near you! Click here for more information and to register. 

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