How was your LSE experience?
I enjoyed it – there was a really international group of students and I really appreciated learning from a wide variety of perspectives when discussing topics such as how we should be organising public institutions.My lectures were great and I also liked the central location of campus.
What was your post-LSE journey that has led you to your current position?
I graduated during the early 1990s recession so things were difficult. I worked for the National Audit Office and as part of that I undertook a chartered accountant qualification. On qualification I joined 3i, a private equity company, and then worked as a management consultant for Ernst and Young before I eventually ended up joining my brother who had started his own property development company.
Having grown the business together since 2004, we now employ almost 50 people. We have separate construction and property development arms, a block management business and we’ve just set up a real estate financing platform as well. A couple of years ago we relocated to Regent Street – being around the corner has helped me to further my connection with LSE.
Why have you chosen to support research into Help to Buy?
Help to Buy was introduced in 2013 to help first time buyers get onto the property market through the state providing a portion of the deposit, meaning the buyer has less need to save. While the government continues to have a stake in the property – when the first time buyer sells the government gets paid back its deposit and a pro-rata share of any property value growth – it’s designed to help first time buyers access the housing market.
From a developer’s perspective it’s been helpful because it has made that end of the market much more liquid, as more people can afford to take that first step onto the ladder and we have a number of very satisfied new customers who have benefited from the scheme.
But there are also question marks. For example, there are certain price levels after which Help to Buy doesn’t apply so we have found ourselves building properties that would fit into that bracket. So naturally this interests us from a policy point of view: is it successful and why? Can this investment be more effectively directed, is there a case for spreading government funding across a number of different pots, should the scheme be structured in less of a cliff edge way?
Why is LSE the right place to carry out this research, and what role can higher education institutions play in advising government on housing policy?
A lot of policy is made without understanding its impact and unintended consequences, so I think LSE, which is so respected and has such a breadth of social science expertise, is a great institution to address those gaps in knowledge. In an era in which facts are so hotly contested, institutions like LSE are crucial for providing evidence that either supports or queries policy. The more research and information there is to support policymakers, governments and – in this case – the construction industry, the more likely we are to make the right decisions. Subsequently, more can be done to prevent people being priced out of living in London and other cities.
How do you see the future of housing in this country more generally?
There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of market risk particularly in the London development world, which I know best. I personally feel Brexit doesn’t help: as a house is such a huge purchase I believe you’re much less likely to go through with it if there’s lots of uncertainty.
I also think that what’s happening in London is going to spill over. We need to do everything we can to make housing more straightforward – for SME developers access to finance is particularly difficult at the moment. We need to get more constructors of property into the marketplace because there are significant barriers to entry for smaller developers.