UK Property Forums consultant Hugh Blaza assesses our first OxPropSocial of 2022.

To paraphrase the old idiom, you know you’re getting old when solicitors and surveyors all start to look younger than you.

And so it proved on February 8 when a great and enthusiastic crowd of property professionals pitched up to The Oxford Retreat for our first event of the year.

Teams and zoom meetings have kept us all going through the last couple of years (and where would we have been without them?) but, as our gathering (is it OK to use that word now?) demonstrated in the clearest of terms, there is no substitute for coming together in person.

Taking our lead from the Young Person of the Year award at last year’s OxPropFest, we wanted to hear what the younger members of our community had to say about the current climate (not just literally) and the opportunities and obstacles to making progress. They are the future, after all!

And so, even though it meant interrupting the many enthusiastic conversations taking place in the room, we were delighted that all of the shortlisted nominees for the award were able not only to attend the event but willing to take a few minutes to share their news and views with us.

Kathryn Gundry of West Waddy Archadia (last year’s awards winner), Rebecca Bacon from Savills and Rachel Woodman from Bidwells covered a range of planning and infrastructure issues:

  • Many local authorities are having trouble in meeting their land needs assessments. This has, at least in part, meant incursions into Green Belt land through Local Plans, with the inevitable furore from residents determined to protect the natural environment and accusations of hypocrisy over the sustainability and net environmental gain.
  • The need to incorporate into building designs solutions for those with physical disabilities.
  • How to get power to new developments, when electricity companies were effectively stymying large residential developments by putting price tags of £50 million on the essential infrastructure elements.
  • The time it takes to obtain planning permissions and the, at times parlous, quality of debate form those charged with making decisions.

And our fourth nominee, Edward Lifely of Carter Jonas, rounded off the presentations with a quick overview of deals coming to the market. Of particular interest is the sale of the Toys R Us retail unit on the Botley Road which looks like becoming a massive labs and research facility; it could be the start of a real shot in the arm for the old western artery and the logic is inescapable, given the proposed creation of an innovation district in this part of the city.

A lively Q&A followed, with some interesting takes on the need to sacrifice some sacred cows (Green Belt) to meet some of the extremely pressing needs (such as affordable housing) versus the need to preserve them (agricultural land) to meet others (locally and sustainably grown food).

The evening ended, eventually, when the lawyers decided they’d had enough. Or at least they felt like moving on to the next bar. Good to see the community is alive and kicking!

And just a reminder that the party will move on to the OxPropSummit on March 23 in the Nazrin Shah Centre at Worcester College – looking forward to seeing everyone there.

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