In this series, Nick Fisher MRICS interviews real estate professionals from across the UK property market to ask them, 'what would you do if you were Housing Minister?' The full series will be available soon, but for now, here's a sneak peek of our first episode with Martin Prince-Parrott RIBA FRSA.
Martin is an award-winning Architect and Development Director for SUB\URBAN WORKSHOP, an innovative ESG-led developer and consultancy. He has been recognised by EG as a Rising Star, for those under 35 making a considerable impact in their industry, and as a Resi Trailblazer by PropertyWeek. He has also been recognised locally as Birmingham Young Professional of the Year.
In this interview, Martin explains his key priorities if he were the UK Housing Minister, which would be to address the cladding issue, the growing need for sustainability in development, as well as stimulate UK home-grown timber to rectify the supply chain shortage issue.
You've just been promoted to the Housing Minister position. What is the most pressing change you look to implement in your first 100 days in office?
The top of the list has to be the cladding scandal. You've got people locked in their homes, potentially looking at negative equity for things that are ultimately out of their control. The UK is in a difficult place now, there's a lot of turbulence, but we've just got to do something to help them. We've got to do something to work with them. If it's not possible to throw money at the issue, then it's got to be something along the lines of working with banks or lenders or insurance companies to find a way through, because it's not all about the cladding. Ultimately, this has happened because legislation has changed, so it's within the government's gift, whether it's to place a moratorium on it or find some way of helping people who are falling prey to this event. It's really not fair.
I think it will reflect well on any government, I think particularly for a Conservative government, to take the side of people who have done the right thing; they've followed the rules, and they've invested in a property for themselves and their families. I think it would be right for a Conservative government to support those people in their time of need. So that's what I would do with the first 100 days.
Over your four years in office, what does success look like to you and the housing sector?
In four years, firstly, I'd count myself lucky if I'd stayed as the Minister for that long. Secondly, I'd probably say we've got to deal with Retrofit - we've got millions of buildings and homes which we need to be in a net-zero position before 2030, if not 2050. If we don't achieve it by 2050, we're looking at a global increase in temperatures of about two degrees centigrade, which is catastrophic.
The challenge is significant, but the opportunities are significant as well. You're looking at the opportunity to recast and reshape places for communities in a way that works for them, now in a digital age. We've got the opportunity to create over 100,000 jobs, cut carbon annually by about 20% and also save around £7 billion annually, just in energy costs by doing it. Therefore, the opportunities are significant.
The concept of a green New Deal appeals to me; it could be part of a movement, which generates jobs, opportunity, economic activity, as well as reduces carbon and makes homes ultimately safer, warmer and more intelligent for normal people. I'd also say, we need to do it in a way that stops it from feeling like it's something being done to communities and instead, being able to do it alongside them because it's very rare. We inherit the places that we live in, so this is a once in a generation opportunity to be involved in the reshaping and the reforming of a place. Whether it be the space in between the buildings, the green space, the parks, the towpaths, or it's something as simple as the colour of your house. Those decisions matter to people, especially people who have probably felt quite disenfranchised. We also need to make it a little bit easier for that change to take place - a tax structure that supports it is key to being able to achieve that.
Let’s skip forward 10 years, what does the housing landscape look like? The legacy of your department?
In the next 10 years, I'd hoped that my time in office would lay the groundwork for it. I'd like us to be simultaneously more productive, simultaneously more tech-enabled in terms of the way we go about creating places and housing, and simultaneously more in tune with nature.
I think the key to being able to do this is to rediscover our heritage for being an island nation, which is at peace with its woods and its forests and fully embraces our heritage when it comes to woodworking.
Arguably a lot of British achievement has come down to our ability to innovate when it comes to technology, but also particularly when it comes to ships and boats and woods, and what I'd like us to do is to take that same sort of adventurousness, and apply it to buildings. There are lots of technologies now that we can apply to make timber construction better. In this respect, we need to be smart as safety is still an issue and fire is an ever-present risk, but it doesn't have to be. Mass timber has shown that it's actually more reliable in a fire than steel because it doesn't buckle; it tends to char its face, and that protects the structural core of the timber. We produce timber in the UK that grows five times faster than it does in boreal climates, which are by far the largest timber exporters - so there's an economic advantage.
We also have farmers now who, for a whole host of reasons, aren't able to make their land as productive as it could be; countries like Norway and Sweden pay their farmers to grow trees and to grow forests. We could do that in the UK - simultaneously creating green jobs, decarbonizing our supply chain and reducing our imports of timber. Thus, we can reduce the carbon footprint of materials, and create better, more sustainable places. Not to mention all the waste products that come from it.
I'd really like for the whole industry to be given the opportunity to really explore what the UK can do, and particularly what British timber can do, because I think it's criminal that we that we're importing wood from other places where it takes a lot longer to grow when we could grow it here at five times the speed, and employ a whole host of people to simultaneously look after our landscape and look after a key part of our supply chain.
Did you enjoy this piece? Look out for the full interview and future episodes. You might find our recent market report interesting, where we chat about the supply chain shortage in more detail, you can read it below: