Last year I attended an Estate Gazette City Talks event where one of the panellists, a residential developer, expressed his view to a City Councillor co-panellist that he wanted to see politics taken out of the planning process.

Her response was that she believed the planning process was entirely political and suggested that if he couldn’t see that, he should perhaps consider another career.

Although this made good theatre (applause and gasps of surprise all round) it was also a reminder to me about how much of what we all do in property is increasingly under the spotlight of politicians and society more generally.

At a personal level I have always felt what we do to be part of the political landscape and increasingly so in recent years, particularly as my development business Cubex undertakes more mixed-use and residential development.

Something different

Here in Bristol we are trying something different. Working with LandAid, Bristol City Council, local charity Developing Health & Independence, Palmer Capital, Willmott Dixon and many of the consultants and contractors that have worked on our Finzels Reach development. We are looking to restore a dilapidated and empty property to provide 11 apartments for homeless young people.

This is being undertaken on a pro bono basis by everyone involved and is not tied in with any planning obligation or planning requirement attached to the development. It’s simply because we want to do something to tackle homelessness by using our collective professional planning, architectural, surveying and construction skills in a direct way, to connect with our wider communities and show that the property industry can be a force for good.

I’ve been delighted with the support and commitment that all the businesses involved have already given and committed to provide. In some ways I feel that I’ve tapped into a reservoir of collective goodwill that enlightened businesses have been storing up but struggling to find an outlet for. This is reassuring when only recently the regional director of a large construction company expressed to me a particularly unsympathetic view regarding the challenges society faces with homelessness.

My view is that all of us in the property industry have a long way to go to redress the suspicious and in some quarters negative light that we are seen in. The clear lack of affordable housing and the approach taken by some to see “what they can get away with” wrapped up in the context of huge bonuses detracts from the excellent work already undertaken by socially minded developers and charities with a property focus.

Time to do more

I would respectfully suggest that, generally speaking, I’m not sure if the wider property industry is doing enough to promote its efforts in this field outside the property bubble.

Discussion points around Grenfell, whether to build on greenfield sites, the drive for taller and more dense residential schemes, the lack of affordable housing, and unchecked growth on house prices in certain areas all help reinforce a picture of an industry (unreasonable, in my experience) focused on greed, taking shortcuts and doing the minimum.

EG readers know this is not the case in all quarters, which is why we should collectively all look to do more, invest further in CSR programmes and engage with our communities directly or with charities such as LandAid to show that we embrace the politics of property and have risen to the challenge.


Author: Gavin Bridge, Cubex Land

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