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Viewpoint - 01/10/2012

Communities drive sustainability forward

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The Localism Act 2011 legislates for the place-shaping agenda espoused by Sir Michael Lyons in his controversial 2007 report on community empowerment. Are attitudes finally beginning to change?

There is little doubt that the work of Sir Michael Lyons some five years ago, though derided at the time, has informed legislation such as the 2011 Localism Act. Sir Michael envisaged a society in which local government officials with so-called ‘place-shaping’ powers would act primarily in the interests of the local community. This meant holding local tax-raising powers and being responsible for targeting local investment. Investors, landlords and occupiers long enough in the tooth to recall the crude localism of the 1970s and 1980s will quake in their boots.

Generation Y driving the agenda

In the intervening period since Sir Michael’s consultation work, the questions of environmental responsibility, sustainable investment and community enrichment have pricked the conscience of British society. Business professionals of the Generation Y demographic, whose influence upon business decision-making is now more keenly felt, increasingly vote with their feet and their bank balances on the core social issues of sustainability, environmental responsibility and community. Their demands for more sustainable, eco-friendly working environments increasingly influence local infrastructure investment decisions, corporate relocation plans and employee recruitment policies.

There are many examples of localism in action

It is no coincidence that the Olympic Park development in the London suburb of Stratford already has a distinct community feel. As the Games end and the Olympic torch is passed to Rio de Janeiro, the London Legacy Development Corporation is putting in place its plans to maintain and build upon the strong community ethos that has long been part of the London 2012 vision. No doubt delivery will take time, but the vision and the determination clearly exist.

However, it is not just high profile projects which are embracing sustainable community development. The future of Swansea Vale, one of Swansea’s best known business parks, is going out to public consultation as a result of, “changes in the commercial property market and the importance of sustainability in development”, as stated by Nick Bradley, Swansea Council cabinet member for regeneration (This is South Wales, 11 August 2012).

Local councillors envisage Swansea Vale’s transformation from a business park to sustainable community environment, with residential housing and a wildlife-friendly ecology park being developed alongside additional warehousing, office space and retail space; where local buyers do business with local suppliers already proven in the local market; where the money earned and the value generated by the community remains within the community. This ethos of sustainable community development aligns precisely with the demands and expectations of Generation Y.

Localism is here for the long-term

These are exciting times for property investment and development professionals prepared to embrace a sea-change in attitude driven by an increasingly carbon-conscious marketplace. Local government decision-makers, emboldened by the Localism Act and Sir Michael’s vision, understand the remit: community-focused working and living environments which attract inward investment, meet the needs of the local community and embrace sustainability in the broadest sense of the term. It is time for the property profession to prepare to meet those expectations.

This article is part of Asset Class autumn 2012.


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