1 Oct 2018
This year’s conference saw the massed ranks of Labour Party faithful make their way to Liverpool’s iconic docks, alongside various journalists, think tanks, unions, businesses… and yours truly, the British Property Federation.
Over the course of the conference, we spoke on panels and were involved in roundtables with four different shadow ministers and a shadow secretary of state.
While these were mostly from the shadow housing and shadow communities and local government teams, our chief executive Melanie Leech appeared on a panel alongside Shadow Exiting the European Union Minister Jenny Chapman. At that event the we were particularly well represented, with LandSec’s Managing Director (London Portfolio) Collette O’Shea also present, numbers being rounded out by Deputy Mayor of London James Murray and Leader of Camden Council Georgia Gould. Discussion focussed on how to ensure that Brexit will not have an adverse effect on the construction industry workforce, primarily by improving domestic skills training.
Indeed, the topic of skills training was a theme across the conference, with Shadow Housing Minister Sarah Jones appearing on a panel we hosted in partnership with the Federation of Master Builders and the New Statesman, this time discussing how innovation and modern methods of construction can help alleviate the pressure on the skills crisis.
Another dominant theme of our party conference programme was planning reform. Ghislaine Halpenny, our External Affairs Director, spoke at the launch of Labour’s new Planning Commission, in a bill that featured Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Andrew Gwynne MP and Shadow Minister for Planning Roberta Blackman Woods MP. Ghislaine will be representing the interests of our members on the Commission, which will be shaping Labour’s planning policy to revitalise the UK’s strained planning system.
Our traditional Monday night dinner for relevant MPs, Councillors, and industry stakeholders also focussed on planning, with the Commission and Raynsford Review being the foremost discussion topics. Roberta was in attendance, as was Helen Hayes MP, an ex-town planner who now represents the Dulwich and West Norwood constituency. Helen spoke passionately to our guests about the planning system, and public and private sector perception of the system’s purpose and was interested to hear about our Diversity & Inclusivity programme, and discussion led onto the wealth of exciting careers related to the planning system and how we could improve the ways in which the sector can demonstrate this. Our co-hosts, the Town and Country Planning Association, were able to lend their expertise to the conversation, which ended on a hopeful consensus on the importance of recognising planning as something done in service to communities, instead of just imposed on them.
The idea of serving local communities, and giving them a say in their own destiny, was key to another of our events: a panel on the relationship between devolution and housing delivery, produced in partnership with the Royal Town Planning Institute. The most memorable moment involved Siobhain McDonagh MP (Mitcham and Morden) holding pictures of dilapidated sites on the edge of London which enjoy green belt protection, preventing them from being developed and turned into places that communities can use. The audience looked on in enjoyment, as did the rest of the panel, which featured David Budd, the Mayor of Middlesbrough (and not the titular main character of BBCs newest Sunday night drama, the Bodyguard – apologies to any disappointed attendees), as well as Derek Long, Leader of St Helens Council, and Paul Grover of Arup.
Devolution and the role of local authorities was a hot topic at an Institute for Progressive Property Research roundtable we were invited to, featuring input from trade bodies, charities, academics, and politicians on how to reform the private rented sector. It was good to hear leading Labour party politicians like Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn MP and the aforementioned Helen Hayes MP align with our views on the importance of a professional offer within the PRS, which is useful in increasing standards and ensuring a choice of tenancies are available to renters.
It was surprising that at a conference that was otherwise dominated with rhetoric and policies which were (at the very least) divergent from business interests, our industry met such a positive reaction from the key policy spokespeople amongst the opposition.