Stephen Byfield in Housebuilder – Legacy projects

The article below is taken from Stephen Byfield’s regular column in Housebuilder magazine. Stephen is a partner at Newgate and founded, stakeholder and community engagement specialists, PPS Group (now Newgate Engage) over 27 years ago. The company has worked for every major housebuilder down the years, helping them gain planning consent and to engage with local communities and politicians.   

I have been contemplating death recently.   In particular, I have been contemplating what we leave behind – the problem of legacy.   I know this is a subject more suitable to the pages of Psychology Monthly or a Sunday supplement, but bear with me.   You see, I think that the question of legacy has a significant impact on our business – it drives new developments.

Consider, if you will, the life of your average MP.   There are few careers where the pole to success is quite as slippery as the one a prospective politician has to climb.

Today’s political leaders started life canvassing and leafleting before standing for that first local council seat.   Then they endured years sitting on planning or licensing committees, cultivating contacts, suffering endless meetings of political associations before getting their chance to pitch to a selection committee just so they could become an MP.   To get any real power, our politician then had to manoeuvre for a ministerial job or change tack completely and become Mayor of London or perhaps one of the new regional mayors.

So what do you do when you have made it?   Well you look for a legacy – something you can leave behind that will for ever be associated with you.   And what better legacy than something in bricks and mortar; a tangible monument to your time in power?

It’s no surprise that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London is standing four square behind Cross Rail 2.   Mr Khan has the biggest personal mandate of any politician in Europe but he has very little power.   So he needs a legacy project and Crossrail 2 could be it – far better than any garden bridge…

Even in local authorities, political leaders are often keen to see landmark schemes come forward.   I live in Southwark where for years councillors have named local roads after each other as testament to forty years overseeing the drains and cemeteries.

It strikes me that, as an industry, we could do more to benefit from this urge.   Crossrail 2 will deliver enormous opportunities for new residential development, pushing up values and driving demand.    Outside London, we could probably get more schemes away by explaining to the Council leader that major projects can be their legacy, with squares and landmark buildings named after them.   We all like the idea of legacy – that’s why we build things.   But spreading the recognition to those who grant us planning permission would go a long way.

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