by Melanie Leech, Chief Executive, British Property Federation (BPF)
Real estate investment is a fundamental building block of the UK’s economy and society – it underpins our country’s future success. Real estate investors deliver the physical environment in which people live, work and relax, drive UK productivity, and enable economic growth and social wellbeing.
This investment is more important than ever before, if we are to maintain the UK’s resilience and secure our place on the global stage as one of the world’s most exciting places to live and work.
The political climate has been dominated by the implications of the EU referendum in 2016, and the continuing uncertainty of the last three years has undermined confidence and needlessly put much-needed investment and development on hold.
The impact of this uncertainty on the country’s capacity to deliver more high-quality homes – and to regenerate our town and city centres – is something the British Property Foundation has continued to beat the drum about throughout 2019, in all corners of Whitehall and Westminster. At the start of 2019, confidence in UK real estate over the next 12 months had fallen, with only a quarter of our property industry leader sentiment survey respondents saying they felt confident about 2019.
Real estate is a long-term industry
However, our industry takes a long-term view, and more than half of respondents in the same survey felt confident about the industry’s performance over the next five years.
Fundamentally, we believe the UK remains a world-class investment proposition, and real estate is one of the most attractive asset classes to long-term investors.
Business under the national spotlight
All business sectors are increasingly under scrutiny, both challenged to and held accountable to be making a positive contribution to society.
The real estate sector creates the workspaces that inspire innovation and improve productivity, the places we call home, the retail and leisure facilities where we relax and socialise, and the buildings and spaces that support happier, healthier and safer communities. Yet the current perception and understanding of the industry’s social value is mostly ambivalent and limited.
Because real estate underpins people’s everyday lives, its activities rely on the trust of local communities, and we have both a particular responsibility and significant opportunity to demonstrate how we can deliver a positive impact, and to consider what more we can do to contribute to building our country’s future. Our town and city centres, and our vital infrastructure, will not get the investment they need unless trust is built and maintained between the public and private sectors to create meaningful partnerships, and unless local communities have trust in the development process and believe it will bring value to them and their lives.
As a result, this year has seen the BPF launch a long-term agenda for change, to redefine real estate. We want to maximise our industry’s contribution to the UK’s communities, to improve trust in what we do in partnership with national and local governments, and to ensure that the social value we create is better communicated and recognised.
A more diverse and inclusive real estate industry
In order to be respected and trusted to deliver its social obligations, and ultimately better serve the country’s diverse communities, the real estate industry must improve the diversity of its own workforce and ensure a culture of equality.
The BPF has developed a statement of principles for a more diverse and inclusive real estate industry. It has also partnered with organisations to champion diversity and inclusion across a range of issues including gender, sexual orientation, social mobility, disability and mental health, and to tackle stigmatisation and give a platform to best practice. We have also created a diverse and mutually supportive group of future leaders, BPF Futures, to make sure this agenda is embedded in our work.
While significant progress has been made, there is a lot more still to achieve. Ultimately, the image of our industry must change, and we must better communicate this if we are to succeed in attracting a broader range of talent. We must create an industry with significantly more diversity of thought, people and skills to build a better future for real estate and the UK.
Effecting cultural change will take time, but our industry’s future will be shaped by our commitment to this ambition and our actions to deliver on it.