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#ResiWeek: Clancy's call to property developers

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Councillor John Clancy writes over on the Chamberlain Files on the need to build for the future as part of BPS Birmingham Future’s #ResiWeek. The leader of Birmingham city council says developers and builders are not building on the scale and at the pace that the city requires. 

I’ve become particularly fond of using the following statistics in recent months:

  • 50 per cent of Birmingham’s population is 30 or under
  • 40 per cent are aged 25 or under
  • 30 per cent are aged 20 or under.

Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe and that fact, which I believe is our great strength as a city, must inform our visions and our priorities.

That is why, after children’s safeguarding, building enough decent homes in this city is our number one priority.

National College for High Speed Rail (NCHSR) Breaking Ground Ceremony at Birmingham. Monday 9th May 2016. Cllr John Clancy (Lead of Birmingham City Council) officially breaks the ground.

As the statistics above make clear, Birmingham is a young city and we have to literally build for the future. If we do not address the issue of our housing supply then that demographic will be of no use to us at all. In fact it will be a real problem because young people will leave this city. They will have nowhere to live, bring up their families or grow businesses.

And make no mistake, there is no time to waste. We need to build 90,000 new homes in the next 15 years and that means we need to build at pace and scale.

The challenge is to find the right partners and bring the right investment to Birmingham to address the growing demand for new residential stock.

It’s abundantly clear that we must cast the net far and wide and, with that in mind, I spent last week on a trade mission to China and Hong Kong, talking to major investors the part they might play in Birmingham’s future growth.

Encouragingly we (Birmingham City Council) signed a Joint Statement of Investment Commitment with Chinese property development company Country Garden that will see us work jointly to find areas of collaboration with regard to delivering significant new housing stock in Birmingham city and the surrounding area.

From my extensive talks with them, Country Garden clearly understand the urgent need for new residential stock in Birmingham and are clearly excited at the prospect of investing in our young, growing city. I firmly believe they could have a major role to play in addressing our housing demands and, importantly, they have a proven track record of building homes at pace and scale. They have played a major role over the last 20 years, as housebuilders have met the massive demands of China’s rapidly expanding economy.

The deal is worth up to £2 billion to the Birmingham economy and bringing this level of investment and experience to our city would be a massive economic boost to the region’s businesses, skills base and families. It’s about bringing new, big capital spend to the city, quickly. This is about building houses, jobs and futures for young Brummies and families across the region.

Of course the scale of our challenge means we must look at a range of solutions and Birmingham City Council has a big part to play.

Through the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT), the council was the biggest builder of homes in Birmingham last year. We built high quality homes that make a real difference to families and individuals. Our homes are transforming lives.

On one level I’m quite proud of the fact that we’re the biggest housebuilder in the city but I have to ask the question: Is that good?

The statistic indicates to me that others are not building on the scale and at the pace that the city requires. That indicates to me that developers are not releasing land that they have – even land which has planning permission for homes on it.

If necessary – because we’ll have to – we’ll be assertive in terms of using our capital to ensure that building takes place. If necessary we will continue to be the biggest builder of homes in Birmingham but actually I do urge builders and developers to bear in mind that Birmingham is a great growing economy and a great place to build homes and get a return on your investment.

I have spent a lot of time speaking with developers to put this point across and to stress that this needs to be a partnership.

The real worry for developers – whether it’s post-Brexit or otherwise – is whether we are heading towards recession and that’s usually the thing that makes developers more cautious than anything.

So it may very well be that Birmingham City Council assists, if we’re getting into a situation where we’re heading into recession, to try to de-risk that and to enter into joint venture with developers to make sure houses are being built.

And that is the key point. We must make sure houses are being built – whether that’s by BMHT, by UK housebuilders or by overseas investors like Country Garden. In reality it will most likely be a combination of all of the above.

For further information and venue details on #ResiWeek, please see here. Follow and take part in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #ResiWeek – we’re @BHAMFUTURE.