There was an upbeat mood as more than 120 guests gathered for the annual Place RESI conference to discuss solutions to the housing supply shortage.
The return of large-scale development was a recurring theme, with the rise of the private rented sector (PRS), local authority land reviews and new urban design ideas among topics covered by the line-up of expert speakers.
Duncan Sutherland, chairman of Sigma Inpartnership, described his experience of arranging finance for the large PRS deal agreed recently with Kuwaiti bank Gatehouse to build 5,000 units aimed predominantly at the social rented market, the first 2,000 in Liverpool and Salford.
Sutherland said the PRS asset class was still relatively immature, with UK institutions showing interest but reluctant to sign up to investments that involve complex development and maintenance cycles, preferring finished assets instead.
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Sutherland said it was a myth that there was not sufficient private rented demand in areas outside London and Manchester city centres to drive PRS; Sigma needs only 2.5% of monthly churn of Salford's rental market to make its model viable.
Sutherland predicted that the private rented sector would make up 20% of the total housing market by 2020, up from its current position of around 7%.
Sigma's success with PRS was built on strong partnerships with local authorities which have put in land to allow major development of new homes.
Stockport Council is currently going through an aggressive interventionist phase of development, Paul Lawrence, corporate director of place management and regeneration, told delegates in the afternoon session at Place RESI. Intervening to buy stalled sites or guarantee leases to enable development such as the new multi-storey car park in Stockport Exchange, by Muse Developments, during a time of local government spending cuts was "terrifying" for many councillors, he said. Convincing council members to invest and take risks at a time of austerity was extremely difficult. Lawrence also said the council found it difficult to get new housing applications through the planning process, with only one scheme currently on site, by Bellway.
Despite the tough political and public sector financial climate, the economic indicators were improving and developers can expect two or three years of increased consumer demand and confidence, according to Richard Laming, director of economic planning at Turley Associates. The UK population is due to grow by more than 10 million in the next 25 years and even in the short term the softening mortgage market and greater number of high loan-to-value deals available was encouraging house builders to get on with new schemes, Laming explained. However, planning constraints meant there was "inelastic supply" in the market.
Peter Nears, strategic planning director at major North West land owner, Peel Group, said local authorities needed to be bolder in facing difficult decisions such as around green belt release and demonstrating a growth agenda.
Nears said we need a "strategic pro-growth planning response" to the lack of housing supply in the pipeline, "one that is viable, deliverable and visionary."
Also speaking at the event, held in Bruntwood's Red Rooms in City Tower, Manchester, was Kevin McGeough, senior strategy manager for sustainable development at the Homes & Communities Agency on the lessons learned from large scale development; Jaimie Ferguson, head of urban design and masterplanning at Turley Associates, on the latest ideas for providing new urban communities; Mick Goode, director of Croft Goode Architects and Chris Wotton, director of PPS Group.
The event was attended by more than 120 people from dozens of organisations including DAC Beachcroft, Gladman, Barton Willmore, GVA, Jones Lang LaSalle, Ainscough Strategic Land, Tameside Council and Tatton Estate.
Place RESI 2014 was sponsored by Hill Dickinson, Turley Associates, Livingcity Group of Companies and PPS Group.
Mark Gallimore, managing director of Livingcity, said: "We were once again delighted to sponsor Place RESI. The market is reacting to new initiatives introduced over the past 12 months and it was interesting to listen to the predominantly positive debate amongst informed delegates working across the North West property community. The real key to sustained success will come from clear lines of funding and support for developers, continuing improvement in the UK economy and if the residential sector has the faith to invest to secure the future."
View and Download presentations from Place North West's profile pages on Slideshare here, or go straight to the individual presentations below:
See image galleries below, click on any image to launch gallery. Photographs by Simon Pendrigh