What a year. As we celebrated last Christmas, none of us could have imagined what the following 12 months would bring. For the residential sector 2020 has been characterised by two things: Covid and building safety.
We all responded to the first challenge pretty well. Very quickly property managers switched to remote working. We held AGMs on Zoom and ramped up tech solutions to enable client engagement. The leading property bodies got together and persuaded government to class block managers as essential workers and quickly produced a letter to show to anyone tempted to stop them travelling to see customers where necessary. Letting agents adapted fast too. Virtual viewings allowed the market to continue despite the problems thrown up by the lockdown. At Ringley we brought forward the launch of our automated lettings platform PlanetRent to enable landlords and tenants to carry out their whole rental journey online.
Despite all the disruption to our daily lives and the trauma of lives lost and people forced apart, the normal business of the industry quietly continued at pace. Over the summer the Government published its draft Building Safety Bill, designed to remedy the faults that revealed by Grenfell in 2017. But out in the real world leaseholders fell foul of the well-intentioned EWS1 form and suffered immeasurable stress as thy found themselves trapped in unsafe, unsellable blocks. In response, our sector worked tirelessly to persuade government to take their plight seriously - and to adequately fund the remediation work so badly needed on thousands of blocks around the country.
As property managers, we are at the sharp end of all this, dealing every day with the issues thrown up by the cladding crisis and doing our best to keep residents safe, engaged and well informed. But in the midst of a pandemic, we still face a serious lack of fire risk assessors and too little money to make the many changes that are needed to make safe our residential buildings.
There may now be some light at the end of the tunnel. Last week, MHCLG extended the cladding fund deadline and will now contribute £30 million to alarm costs. More is needed but it’s a start.
The Grenfell inquiry continues. It has shone an unflattering light on bad practice in our industry and no one comes out well. When manufacturers are found to have falsified fire testing in order to continue to persuade specifiers to use its products in ways that could endanger the end user, it is clear that real people’s lives have somehow been eradicated from the equation. This must change and fast. It is this cultural dissonance that the Hackitt review’s proposed ‘golden thread’ seeks to tackle in a practical, can-do way. So if there is one thing we should all wish for the next 12 months, it is that we remember and learn from the lessons of Grenfell.
As we face the very real prospect of another national lockdown in the face of rising infection levels, the roll out of a vaccine at least offers some hope that our lives may start to return to normal in 2021. So despite the strange times we are living in, we wish all our clients, customers, staff and colleagues a very happy and healthy Christmas. Let’s all hope for better times ahead, both for our industry and for the friends and family we love.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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