NW 2015: Keep it real

The excesses of the early noughties brought about a seismic shift in the property world, and society in general, when the inevitable collapse came about, writes Phil Doyle.

Although the process of recalibration in 2008 was pretty painful, there was an aspect of detoxification and purification that was both necessary and indeed cathartic. The intervening years of austerity brought business failures, stalled projects and a shift in both building values and construction costs, particularly across the North West.

Immersed in a new reality, projects that actually went forward were driven by sound sustainable principles, building efficiencies, hard-nosed economics and a return to old school values of lean construction and long-life, loose-fit principles.

Any excess fat was removed and we were all perhaps better for it; leaner, fitter, stronger, more resilient and smarter. Local councils, in particular, had to grasp this message more than others but within the huge budget cuts they had to make many of our local authorities sought to transform how they worked and what sort of buildings they needed to support that transformation.

The last year has seen the rise of the private rented sector in the region and a resultant increase in land values as the need to grasp the opportunity of the next upward curve of the property cycle becomes ever more pressing. Construction prices are up, the right skills have gone missing, overheads are increasing and buildings are getting taller again, particularly in Manchester.

Generally, the market says that values are rising but, when assessed specifically on a project-by-project basis, not quickly enough to make most projects anywhere near viable.

For some, those principles of efficiency, adaptability and appropriateness learned so painfully over the last six years seem to have been quickly forgotten.

The appetite to develop is back, but if we don't want to repeat the mistakes of six years ago and leave a new legacy of surface car parks and frame skeletons, we need to apply those principles to current projects. Simply put, a good site remains a good site.

Focus on putting the money into the right places, reducing, reusing, applying technologies and getting the building net gross and wall ratios right. Ensuring that stuff can actually still get built remains a key part of great design.

The message from 2014 is clear; those projects that will actually succeed in 2015 will be those that keep it real.

Phil Doyle is a director of 5plus Architects

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