SME developers will play a crucial role in alleviating the housing crisis

Residential chairman, Mark Collins, updates us on the key discussions at last week's RESI Conference.

After a scenic train journey across the Gloucestershire hills, I arrived at Celtic Manor on Monday evening just in time for the “waifs and strays” supper. It was a great turnout of developers, agents, consultants, designers and other industry professionals, and an opportunity to catch up with old friends before the conference began.
To say that it has been a tumultuous 12 months in the property industry is an understatement and there were certainly some challenging topics to address, which this year’s RESI conference confronted head on with an impressive line-up of speakers and panelists.
Many of the focus sessions considered the monumental of challenges faced by the housing sector of how we overcome the ever-increasing supply and demand imbalance.
The crucial role that SME’s must play in alleviating this was high on the agenda. We heard from a range of panelists that SME’s frequently feel overlooked by local housing authorities.
This was an important reminder that whilst major housebuilding operators continue to be hugely influential, SME’s have an increasingly important role to play in the delivery of new homes.
Smaller developers must be encouraged by local authorities and, crucially, funding bodies, to continue operating in the mainstream housing sector, building schemes on smaller chunks of land that can be delivered faster than large, mixed use developments.
So, how can we unlock the full potential of SME’s? Unsurprisingly, the need for streamlined, flexible planning processes was high on the agenda, allowing for speedier delivery of housing. Additionally, SME’s were encouraged to engage with the local communities in which they operate as much as possible, building strong relationships with local authorities and councils.
Standout speakers for me were Residential Land’s Bruce Ritchie, and Berkeley’s Tony Pidgely, both of whom gave balanced yet through-provoking arguments throughout their respective panel discussions. Michaela Hancock of Greystar gave us a fascinating insight in to the Build to Rent philosophy and the future of PRS. The key underlying messages remained: momentum must not be lost and operators must focus on delivering high quality stock with the facilities that modern tenants require.
Finally, friends and colleagues who attended the final feast at RESI will remember (or perhaps not, as the case may be!) my personal highlight of this year’s conference: the 200-strong midnight rendition of Hey Jude!
What really stood out for me at this year’s RESI was the need for innovative, visionary and often challenging ideas about how we can drive the UK housing sector.
Whether it be transport and infrastcture initiatives that could hold the key to unlocking pockets of development-ready land, or ways to create a closer alignment between schools, colleges and construction firms to ensure that construction remains an attractive career prospect in an industry that still suffers from the severe shortage of skilled workers, we must continue to strive to find new ways to navigate our property market through the many obstacles that it faces.