Hew Edgar: Scottish route map good for construction but housing market fears remain
RICS head of UK government relations and city strategy Hew Edgar urges the Scottish Government to raise more awareness of the six-phase return plan for construction and issue clearer guidance with regard to the housing market.
The Scottish Government should be commended for its clear messaging on health measures thus far; and we welcome the publication of this ‘route map’ back to a new, post-lockdown “normal”.
Needless to say, health is Scotland’s top priority, but RICS, like all participants in the built environment, has been eager for the publication of this long awaited report. The uncertainty regarding an unknown return date has been inhibiting practitioners’ and companies’ potential to plan and prepare for the emergence from the lockdown, and this has been severely detrimental to industry activity, output and the wider economy.
The report mentions that we will enter the first two phases of the six-phase return plan for construction, and we welcome the government’s plans to engage with unions over the safe return to work. Likewise, the provision of this timeline is valuable, and will be welcomed by industry – particularly for supply chain management – as it will allow businesses to bring staff back from furlough and mobilise supply chains as they begin to recommence activity. However, we have heard from many industry participants that this six-phase plan is not widely available or easy to locate. As such, we would urge the government to undertake a programme of awareness raising.
What is lacking in this document is clearer guidance with regard to the housing market: “Phase 1: Preparing for the safe reopening of the housing market; and Phase 2: Relaxation of restrictions on housing moves” are not clear enough, and this ambiguity will cause confusion on what is, and what is not, allowed.
Whilst the First Minister stated that further guidance will be developed, which we look forward to, the housing market would significantly benefit from greater clarity on when operators can renew their activities in a market which is so important to the economy.
Indeed, the last thing the housing market needs is a creeping delay arising from an ambiguous restart date. Clearer messaging would allow residential property businesses to bring furloughed staff back at the right time; for tenants to assemble a deposit; and for potential buyers to arrange a mortgage. This would mean that when the restrictions are lifted, the market could hit the ground running as a means to contribute to what we hope will be a V-shaped recovery.
Now that the route map is published, the government and parliament should look to the post-pandemic recovery and what levers can be utilised to rebuild confidence and stability, as well as boost activity in the built environment. Government and parliament should also look at how we can use this opportunity to reflect on existing practices and assess whether Scotland can reset its approach to the built environment in order to align with a green recovery.
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