Interview: James Leaver from Knight Frank

Thu 29th November 2018, 8:24 am

James Leaver, head of public sector at Knight Frank, is one of the Sitematch London advisers working with participating local authorities to prepare them for the event.

Can you say something about yourself and your role at Knight Frank?

I am head of public sector at Knight Frank where I have worked exclusively with government clients for the last 25 years, particularly in London and the South East.

Why do you support the event?

Knight Frank has supported Sitematch London for five years now and our teams always look forward to the event. Property is a people business and an event that puts us in front of our public and private sector developer clients at the same time works very well for us.

You have been involved in Sitemach for a number of years now. During that time, how has the approach of local authorities changed towards regeneration and development?

Sitematch is a London-focused event and the world has changed very significantly in the five years we have sponsored it.

Previously, developers came to the event hungry to meet the property teams of councils and other public bodies to establish which sites would be coming to market in the next 12 months.

We are finding that the meetings now have a different focus, with a Labour-controlled City Hall. Many London boroughs and some of the other public sector participants have very different objectives. Other ways for the public sector to play its part in addressing housing supply and affordability – both itself and with partners on public sector land – has become the primary concern.

The public sector is no longer a net disposer of property and most want to use this event to meet contractors, developers and housing associations who they can partner with and bring solutions to reposition property assets to deliver PRS [private rented sector], estate renewal and even self-delivered private for sale product. For the public sector, this often involves taking greater delivery risk and this can be daunting.

The Brexit deadline is getting closer, and there is still a lot of uncertainty, which has a negative impact on the market. But homes still need to be built. What can local authorities do to stimulate investment and create an appetite for development?

There is a lot of noise about Brexit, but it is important to put the Brexit issue into perspective. There are many factors, other than Brexit, that affect the housing market. The principal pressures that have been colouring the London market and constraining the supply of new housing are property taxation, the capacity of the traditional development industry and the emerging London Plan searching a higher provision of affordable housing from them.

The principal issue that is likely to be affected by Brexit is the capacity of the construction industry as skilled labour retreats to the continent. The procurement of construction and development management, including Modern Methods of Construction could ease some of these pressures but it is not the silver bullet.

As an adviser at the event, how to you see your role, and how do you aim to add value to the meetings taking place at the event?

We want to support public sector bodies attending the event to prepare their messaging and objectives and to play our part in making sure that they have the right meetings with the right private sector partners and solution providers.

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