Deborah McLaughlin: Sustainable communities key to a strong recovery

18th February 2021

Deborah McLaughlin Mulbury

A lot has happened since I wrote my last post in mid-November. Back then we were in the middle of Lockdown Two, though there was an optimism that things would improve by Christmas and the New Year.

We now know that optimism was misguided, and I write this post in the middle of Lockdown Three which, for many people, has been the most difficult and testing so far.

Despite the current challenges, there is optimism. The ongoing roll-out of vaccines gives us hope that we can soon carry on with some more familiar version of our lives.

I say familiar, because we will probably never go back to exactly how our lives were pre-Covid. So much has already changed.

Whether you believe in the Build Back Better mantra or not, we must take the positives and exploit opportunities that have been presented to us to do things better.

Making our towns more beautiful

Last time I spoke of how we’re likely to see much more investment coming forward in ‘emerging towns’. I really believe there will be a drive towards sustainable towns where a greater proportion of the population will live and work locally.

There is an opportunity here to make our towns more beautiful. We can restructure town centres by shrinking large retail and moving towards more diversity and choice for shopping, leisure, hospitality and indeed housing.

Our entrepreneurs and SMEs have an opportunity to create a niche retail identity in our towns, to remodel and reuse outdated spaces for something new. If we can get more people living in or close to town centres, this can help create a thriving night-time economy like we’ve had in the cities.

After all, the demand for leisure and hospitality experiences has not gone away. People still want to eat out, meet friends, enjoy culture, socialise, and so on. It will come back.

 Quality and choice in housing

In terms of the housing sector’s role in creating these sustainable communities, design quality and sustainability has never been more crucial, not just in terms of individual homes, but in wider placemaking.

We need to create more neighbourhoods that offer genuine housing choice for people at all stages of life, whether you want to be a homeowner, a renter, or something in between.

Mulbury is working with registered housing providers to create developments with a broad mix of tenures and house types that appeal to people in many different situations. We’ve had some great feedback from clients on the build quality of these developments, another critical success factor in creating communities that last.

It was also very pleasing to see Mulbury starting the year by striking a deal with Cheyne Capital’s Impact Real Estate Fund to develop new homes in Manchester’s New Cross district. The deal includes a social covenant which will see 35% of homes in the development made available to local keyworkers at discounted rents.

It’s this type of thinking that can give us the sustainable communities we need to ensure a strong recovery and a brighter future.

Deborah McLaughlin is a non-executive director of Mulbury and former regional director for Homes England