In difficult times, we need strong partners that support us through those challenges – that’s true both in our personal lives and in professional endeavours.
Many would agree that the last few years have been defined by change and uncertainty. So the question on everyone’s minds will inevitably revolve around what the impact will be on the built environment, and what is coming next.
What we do know is this: as it stands, the Government, local authorities and industry struggle to get within striking distance of achieving housing targets year after year . And the outlook gets even more complicated when you factor in that according to research by the Local Government Association, councils don’t expect their finances to return to pre-Covid levels until at least 2023 or even 2024.
Clearly there needs to be a collective shift in how we approach development if we want to deliver not just the quantum of homes that is desperately needed – but also ensuring that what we do build is what people actually need and is conducive to sustainable and thriving communities.
That’s why it is more important than ever that public and private sector work together in partnership, and that also means really abiding by what is involved in a strong partnership beyond commercial considerations. It means making decisions together, pooling resources, finding a shared set of goals and values and working towards them to make sure that everybody wins.
Private housing providers might have the capital and expertise to support local authorities through these choppy times, but to really deliver meaningful and sustainable developments your shared goals cannot be solely financial-they should be based upon a vision of what a good future looks like. That’s why we as developers must work incredibly closely with local councils and communities, listening carefully to their needs and designing places and spaces accordingly.
Take for example Aberfeldy Village –the 20-year-long regeneration project we are undertaking in partnership with housing association Poplar HARCA in Tower Hamlets. The ambitious masterplan proposals were informed and shaped by extensive stakeholder engagement and co-design with the local community, conducted using inventive, creative methods throughout the Covid lockdowns. The process involved detailed analysis of Aberfeldy with its residents, design workshops and creation of a manifesto using ZCD Architect’s ‘Youth, Opportunity, Power Toolkit’, which places children’s independent movement as its design driver (which LREF attendees will be able to experience on the Aberfeldy Village project tours). This collaborative approach was driven by the partnership and design team’s desire to create real social value, and our long-term commitment to creating a truly mixed and sustainable neighbourhood.
Strong partnerships, especially when you’re in it for the long-term, also require constant communication and, crucially, the ability and willingness to adapt as the market and people’s needs shift. Change is the only constant in life; if we want to keep London building, we need to keep evolving in order to keep up. Whether it is about looking at the types and tenures of homes we create, the design and technologies or our ways of working as an industry – what will be key is really understanding and identifying what is needed to maintain sustainable development in London, and how we can get there.
Ultimately, we must remember always that truly successful partnerships means putting people at the heart of what we do. Not only will taking a human-centric approach make Britain’s economic recovery easier and more successful, it will also serve to future-proof London. Like any partnership, one of the best signs of success is knowing you’ve created the conditions for the people to thrive, now and in the future.