It's been a busy few weeks and, for everyone I know, a few weeks that have been quite unlike any that we've had before. Few people could have predicted on January 1st that, by the end of the tax year, the world would be where it is at the moment - and I have been staggered by the collegiate, collaborative, and considerate way in which people from all walks of life have responded to the challenges we are all facing. It's very likely that we are witnessing the start of a once in a generation change in how people in Britain choose to work and live, and those changes are even now creating ripples that will pass throughout the real estate industry.
In the last two weeks I have been involved with two significant real estate events - one as a participant, the other an audience member - and they have absolutely convinced me that real estate, including my area of practice, the living sector, can help to us to push on beyond the current challenges that COVID-19 has created. I'm convinced that we can all play a part in shaping and delivering the "new normal", taking the best of what we had "before coronavirus" and adding to that the best of what we're all doing now - if we can take something positive from the current situation, it's that real estate can build something bigger, better and brighter than before.
What do I mean? Today, I was a virtual audience member for a Shoosmiths web-conference for housebuilders, attended by a significant number of sector stakeholders, hosted by my Shoosmiths partner and head of housebuilding, Steve Wiltshire, and including Stewart Baseley (executive chair of HBF) on a panel which included a number of my fellow living sector partners from Shoosmiths.
The debate was wide ranging and touched upon many of the challenges currently facing residential developers - and other stakeholders - at the moment, including issues with failed and faltering plot sales, the developing nature of furloughing staff, the challenges faced by our planning system in preserving existing consents and maintaining ongoing applications, and the sheer size and diversity of the residential development supply chain. What came across, vividly, was the huge level of engagement that the residential development industry, in all its many forms, is actively and passionately employing in supporting staff and the wider supply chain, and taking the discussion back to Government to keep the dialogue and action alive and relevant. Stewart spoke passionately about the housebuilding industry, and the central role it has, economically and socially, and it was great to hear what he had to say, together with insightful sector comment from the Shoosmiths team - Steve Wiltshire, Catherine Williams, John Cleaveley, Karen Howard, Melissa Barker and Phil Crowe. We know that housebuilding is a key part of the economy, and the sector is not standing still, finding creative and deliverable ways to keep business going at the moment.
And, last week, I was fortunate to be a panel member on another web-conference, hosted by Estates Gazette, on the Future of Birmingham - with fellow panel members from Savills and West Midlands Combined Authority. Again, while looking particularly at why Birmingham is great, and where it is going (and what it can still achieve), many of the elements have a wider resonance. The panel all spoke passionately about unlocking development, how current challenges may change how and where people work, and how real estate is not standing still despite COVID-19. Whether it is single unit deals, or longer-term strategic land development and master planning, the real estate sector is moving forward, addressing needs and exploiting opportunities, and reflecting what people want in what we do.
So, where we are now isn't where any of us would want to be - timings are changing and plans are having to be redrawn. But real estate is a potent force for social stability and social change, and we will come out the other side of the current health challenges. We can succeed, and help others succeed - we just all need to take that first step forward.
"There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen."