Others read his actions as a vote of confidence in the market. Large-scale regeneration schemes carry more risk than your standard estate, so would Pidgley be gearing up the company in this way if he thought the market was heading for a nosedive? Then again, perhaps Berkeley Group is being groomed for a sale or a buyout … If so, his move will make it more affordable.
Only Mr Pidgley knows what Mr Pidgley is planning, but one thing everyone else seems to agree on is that he's just pulled off another stroke of genius. He's repositioning Berkeley to take advantage of a market that is certain to grow and that will be difficult for his run-of-the-mill rivals to compete in. And it makes Berkeley's City investors happy because it is generating cash and, one way or another, appears to make the company recession-proof.
But what is the government to make of it all? On the face of it, Pidgley's decision to specialise in large-scale regeneration schemes fits in with Prescott's goal of concentrating on brownfield development. But let's not forget that Berkeley is going to be slashing its output. If many more housebuilders start to withdraw capital, alarm bells should start ringing at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. So, perhaps it would be well advised to take a few precautions, particularly in the areas of planning and the proposed land tax – after all, neither would be much use if firms lose their appetite for building houses.
Code blue for the Quality MarkThe government is having another go at bringing the Quality Mark out of its coma. And boy, does it need it. The scheme designed to stamp out cowboy builders was first put on the agenda by Nick Raynsford back in 1998. Six years on, only a few hundred firms have signed up, rather than the 30,000-40,000 the consultants say are needed to establish it nationally. In a last-ditch attempt to save the mark, Whitehall has finally decided to listen to the industry and to bring it more in line with other warranty schemes. Lobbying by trade bodies who do not offer warranties must be ignored, but a reduction in the duration of warranties from six years to three, as is being proposed, would give the customer a good level of protection and make the whole thing more affordable. The idea of a national scheme is still worth pursuing. It would do the industry’s reputation no good whatsoever if the government is forced to turn off the life support.
Denise Chevin, editor