The industry needs to embrace change if it is to continue to prosper

Phil Wade

In development there is a tendency to talk about ‘challenges’ and ‘risk’. This language seems to have been particularly prevalent over the last year.

In London, the new Mayor Sadiq Khan’s commitment to deliver 50,000 new homes a year is unquestionably a ‘challenge’ for the industry.

Meanwhile, the threat of a possible Brexit, which has been inescapable since February, is seen as a significant ‘risk’, and has led to caution amongst investors, developers and contractors alike.

My view is that a change of mindset is required, and for ‘challenge’ and ‘risk’ we should see ‘opportunity’ and “change” – an opportunity to do things differently.

In fact, in this market innovation is essential.

As a developer with a burgeoning London pipeline – including a 62 acre new piece of city at Silvertown, East London – we are acutely aware of the lack of capacity in the construction market.

The level of development in London post recession has undoubtedly left contractors very stretched, and wary of overcommitting themselves.

At the same time, inflation and a host of macro-economic issues have conspired to increase costs and bring associated “risks” for everyone.

If necessity is the mother of invention we can expect some exciting changes in the near future to meet the “challenge” ahead.

This has a pronounced impact on developers. At First Base, we pride ourselves on the ability to deliver innovatively designed sustainable places, identifying sites in emerging locations where we can create value. This means more challenging builds, which in this market can mean a more protracted tender process, leading to uncertainty on costs and diminishing returns for investors – net result, projects stall, everyone loses. 

Meanwhile, there is a huge skills shortage – a legacy of the collapse of the property market in 2007 when many talented people left the industry.

Over a number of years not enough has been done to attract new people into the construction sector, with the free movement of workers across the EU masking the need to nurture the industry at its grassroots.

So in London we are facing the prospect of delivering 50,000 homes a year – a number we have never come close to achieving in the past – in an environment where the resources and skills are stretched to breaking point. It seems obvious that we need a change of approach.

That is why the rapid development of modular housing and tried and tested pre-fabrication solutions is very pleasing. This allows us to fast track residential construction; reducing delivery times and with it cost and risk.

At the same time, there are signs that the industry is taking control of its own destiny with many SMEs investing in training and apprenticeships and local councils playing a leading role in encouraging this agenda.

Finding a solution that delivers high-quality, well-designed homes at scale is essential if the Mayor’s target is to be achievable.

At First Base, we are embracing new construction methodologies as they emerge and encouraging investment in training and development, if we are to ensure our projects are delivered. If we don’t all embrace “change” then we will fail.

If necessity is the mother of invention we can expect some exciting changes in the near future to meet the “challenge” ahead.

Phil Wade is a director at First Base