There is an amusing meme circulating that depicts Marty McFly climbing into the DeLorean time machine extoling to Doc Brown "Take me to any year except 2020....!" As we reflect on the year of the black swan that was coronavirus we may not have too many fond memories. For many it has been incredibly tough and the Covid scars will take time to heal.
There can be no question that the resilience of the housebuilding sector, along with many others has been tested in a way we have not previously experienced. Pandemic, furlough and social distancing were not terms anyone used this time last year but are now all too familiar.
What positives can we take away as we reflect on our annus horribilis that was 2020? Few have emerged unscathed but the impact of national lockdowns has meant every business has had to look hard at how it operates and performs in a challenging climate and to challenge itself to find improvement. Necessity is after all the mother of invention. Enforced working from home and travel restrictions have meant that more time has been spent at home this year than in any other year. It seems likely that working patterns will never quite be the same and that far more homes are and will remain in addition a place of work. New homes must adapt to meet this changing dynamic and we will see further innovation over the next few years as housebuilders adapt their product range to compete for their share of discerning working from home buyers with a longer list of must haves in their home working environment than before. Life without acceptable wifi is now unimaginable and we can perhaps anticipate greater need to cater for elderly relatives within an enlarged family home, with better recreational green space also high on the agenda. We may see a change of focus too on location where the commuter belt may potentially widen with a reduced demand for travel. The 20 minute neighbourhood will be a feature of planning policy in consequence and is commented upon in other articles from colleagues on emerging planning policy.
Covid may also have given us a glimpse of the future in showcasing what a cleaner environment might entail and that seems likely to accelerate the energy transition underway to provide cleaner forms of the energy that will be used to develop and power our homes of the future whilst leaving behind a reduced carbon footprint. Whatever solution we arrive at to mitigate environmental impact will require significant investment in infrastructure – already a looming challenge with the incremental growth in the sale of EVs and the requirement for gas free heating systems for new homes by 2023. Expectations will need to be managed as this transition cannot happen overnight.
In many respects, one of the valuable takeaways from 2020 was the collaboration that was demonstrated by the housebuilding sector to overcome the many challenges of Covid. For example when the Land Register was closed in consequence of the lockdown a fix was required to prevent the industry grinding to a halt, and this was achieved within days by effective consultation between public and private sector, with the valuable aid of the likes of Homes for Scotland. The outcome of putting collective shoulders to the wheel is that we now have a much improved digital system of online Land Registration, that with hindsight was overdue, but which is now much better placed to cope with a similar challenge. We have seen a raft of other changes in practice and process that have streamlined many aspects of transactions in land and the sale of new homes that are welcome and will remain.
The housebuilding sector has in 2020 shown resilience, it has innovated and it has successfully collaborated. A powerful combination that hopefully sets the stage for next year and allows a far higher volume of much needs homes to be provided.
Let's hope we can look forward to our journey with Doc Brown one day back to the future in 2021...!
Originally published 17th December 2020
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