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News & opinion

30 AUG 2019

Policy in focus

Hew Edgar

Hew Edgar

Head of UK Government Relations and City Strategy

Edinburgh, UK


RICS Government Relations team set outs its three policy priorities for 2019/20.

Our Government Relations will hone-in on three core topics relating to the built and natural environment to develop thought leadership, and inform and advise decision makers across the national and regional government administrations

In order to ensure RICS are a force for positive social change in the real estate sector, our ambition is to work collaboratively with stakeholders to ensure these issues reach, and remain at the top of, government agendas.

Housing Supply

In short, the UK is not building the homes it needs in the places that they are needed. Affordability and the dream of home ownership is being worn away by successive governments chasing arbitrary housing delivery numbers, blinkered home ownership ambitions, constant tinkering with stamp duty and taxes, and creating a not fit for purpose planning system. Government must be future focused in their aims for the housing industry, and aim to deliver a sustainable system that continues delivery across all housing tenures and through multiple methods of delivery.

Government must commit to delivering on housing supply requirements, with a planning system that works holistically with the community, and providing the housing that is actually needed for the community i.e. meeting tenure, socio-economic, and connectivity needs.

The public expect housing that is built to the highest minimum standard, but that is also connected to social and employment needs. Government must not narrow their focus to just delivering homes but continue a focus on building standards and community planning that includes commercial, employment and entertainment land, as well as societal needs of schools and health facilities. With a consistent undersupply, alternative methods of delivery must also be supported and encouraged to grow and support traditional housing delivery. Indeed, Modern Methods of Construction are able to deliver social housing needs, whole life homes and a smaller environmental impact with recyclable materials making it an invaluable cog in the housing supply cycle.

Saving the high street

Online shopping has forced a fundamental change in our high streets in recent years. In fact, the malaise facing our town centres has been evident for a lot longer as they have had to compete against mega supermarkets, out of town retail parks, changing consumer tastes and under investment.

Are some simply doomed? Can anything be done to save them? Should we even try?

What's best in the public interest – do high streets have a social value that cannot be measured in monetary terms? What about their effect on our health and wellbeing? Should online retailers pay higher taxes and a green tax to offset delivery driven pollution? Do we need a planning revolution?

Professionals can have a role in this: landlords can reduce rents; business rates could be reformed; is the government's £675m Future High Streets Fund enough; and will the Future High Streets Task Force make a difference. Do we need an urgent review of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954? Are Business Improvement Districts to answer? Can we plan a new type of high street that is more community focused?

If our high streets are to survive then we need urgent action – but what more can be done?

Climate change

Governments, cities and towns have declared a climate emergency, recognising that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. While the UK has recently toughened up its previous legally-binding 80% reduction in its carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, many ambitious towns and cities want to be carbon-neutral by 2030.

30-40% carbon emissions that are accounted from the built environment are attributable not only to the operational use of built assets, but also through their construction; giving rise to embodied carbon lock-in. As the scale and intensity of urbanisation continues, the development of infrastructure and building construction must strive to ensure systems that are low carbon and resilient, and which protect valuable habitat. A realisation across the built environment professions has been taking place, albeit at a slow pace, in the need to change behaviours and processes to provide for growing populations, without compromising fragile eco-systems. However, a paradigm shift is now necessary within the built environment sector; industry needs to upskill, innovate and re-imagine our cities and infrastructure fit for the future.

An effective mechanism is the consideration of natural capital and ecosystem service valuation, which provides a tool in large-scale economic decision-making. Tools such as ICMS, 2nd Edition, to be published in autumn 2019, approximately assesses the optimum construction cost of design trade-offs and drives more whole life-cycle sustainable infrastructure. While the UK has committed to the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, these need to be fully embedded across built and natural environment policy, particularly across the planning and development process. It is the responsibility of RICS, as a respected global professional body, to pioneer its professionals to deliver a better environment to live and work.

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Hew Edgar

Hew Edgar

Head of UK Government Relations and City Strategy

Edinburgh, UK


Hew leads the team driving policy development across RICS’ sectoral remit. This involves setting team strategy for the UK policy papers and positions that demonstrate and promote RICS’ thought leadership. He also works in partnership with RICS professionals and stakeholders to take forward engagement programmes with government and parliaments.

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