Heating at the Dorchester Hotel was turned up full blast this morning and extra cups of coffee were on standby as delegates at the Movers and Shakers breakfast ducked in from the bitter cold for a 7am start. The general consensus at the event was that the freezing weather was a bit of a shock to the system.
Quite fitting really considering that the event took place on the morning after the night before following the CSR yesterday – another shock, though not an altogether unexpected one, to the system.
Despite the fact that the industry was braced for bad news, deep cuts and some serious belt tightening, Osborne’s spending review was worse than plenty of people feared – particularly in housing. And so the today’s breakfast panel discussion on “piecing together the puzzle of the UK residential market” was about as cold as the weather, with not much good news to be seen on the horizon. Certainly not immediately in any case.
Speakers Tony Pidgley, Gerald Ronson and Sir Bob Kerslake all warned that times ahead looked tough – probably for the next three years at least, if not five in the residential sector: “We are going to see a difficult period,” said Pidgely. “People have lost the ‘feel good factor’ and after yesterday, why would anyone want to go out and buy a house?” He added that the government “doesn’t appear to have any sympathy for housebuilding.”
Ronson added that we are now in “uncharted waters” following the severity of the CSR but said that the government had been left with no choice. “There is not a lot of good news,” he said. “There will be very little joy for 3-5 years. We need to adopt a different work ethic as there will be lots of changes in society. Some will be very unpleasant and unpalatable. But we’re just going to have to get through it.”
Sir Bob Kerslake, chief executive of the HCA finished off by saying: “I would like to cheer everyone up. But we are entering a new reality here. There is much less public funding. People need to be prepared to adapt to change.”
Pidgely revealed that Berkeley, which became the first developer to build homes for rent under the Homes and Communities (HCA) private rental initiative in the summer, is set to launch a second private rental fund to build just under 400 homes in the next year in response to the drastically different market housebuilders are facing now and over the coming years and to drive construction through such tough times.
Ronson said that if the system became viable for a company like Heron International, which isn’t a pure housebuilder he too would consider building homes for rent.
Despite such somber predictions and a harsh outlook for the industry, the panel and delegates remained in encouragingly high spirits this morning, the panelists in particular taking the opportunity to direct jokes and jibes at each other.
On being asked to kick off the discussion first, Pidgely said: “I’ll have to go first as obviously Gerald given the biggest bribe. As usual,” before later jokingly accusing Ronson of “waffling”.”
Later when Ronson described himself and Pidgley as being old for the industry Pidgley told him to speak for himself. Ronson shot back: “I have been in this business for some 52 years which makes me a bit of a dinosaur. One that still has teeth, though.”