Views from the top: Taking back control of the development process

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2 months ago by Henry Ivall

Views from the top: Taking back control of the development process

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My name is Henry, I'm the Housing Development Manager at Goodman Masson. As part of our commitment to developing careers we will be talking with industry experts who have reached the top within the housing sector and want to give something back.  

I recently caught up with Steve Coleman, Group Director at F3GROUP, about why he feels it's more important than ever for clients to take back control of the development process. 

Why is there now a need for people to take control?

Let me start my response by defining what I mean by taking control. Then I will say something about the context.

What I think of as the Design and Build mentality has over many years led clients, particularly in the public sector, to shed responsibility of design and quality on to contractors. Also there is a pernicious procurement culture that judges ‘value for money’ as the cheapest tender and not the one that will give the client the product they say they want.

And yet the majority of homes built by the public sector are for long term rent – affordable and increasingly PRS; so the developer is also the long term landlord with ongoing maintenance, health and safety, lettings and resident satisfaction responsibilities. Given this, taking control of the design, specification and construction process, rather than shedding it, should be a priority for clients.

The context is the Farmer Report “modernise or die” which is a powerful critique of the problems that the construction industry faces, and of course the Hackitt report. Both reports, in different ways, make the point that the client is responsible for the end product and cannot pass this on to others.

What could taking control look like?

This will all depend on the client’s objectives, which should be set out in the Strategic Definition (RIBA Stage 0) document. Responsibility and leadership for this should be with the client’s Development manager. So, whilst it’s very much scheme specific, here’s some generic pointers:

  • Not having design and build as the default choice of contract
  • Keeping control of design
  • A specification that names products and materials
  • The client having a relationship with trade contractors

What’s the benefits of getting more involved in the process?

  • You get the product you want and you’re not passing on the responsibility, which is a huge and expensive gamble for a long-term asset.
  • You control the design – You get the specification you want and you can control the supply chain, being sure the stuff you choose will last which will help keep the maintenance costs down.
  • You can cut the margin by going directly to the manufacturer.
  • The other benefit goes to the community, as it enables you to spend the money in your community benefitting local trade.

How would clients know what products to specify?

That is a very big question - there are providers who have very clear specifications, they know what works for them. Some private developers do this also, they do this because they have gone through tests on products and know how long they last for, how much they cost etc. They name the product on the design specifications.

The interesting thing is that typically, the public sector doesn’t do this, and I think this is down to two things – the traditional process and a lack of confidence in naming the product and specification at an early stage, so you can challenge the contractor. I also don’t think much work is done on what cost it will take to repair a product if it breaks.

What I think this comes out of, and is what Hackitt and Farmer talk about, is the drive for the cheapest - there is lots of pressure to get the build cost down and one way to do this is by fitting the cheapest appliances.

Do people see the finish line as selling rather than 5-10 years down the line?

Yes, I think that is how it is treated. Some of the material going into social housing is not going to last as long as private sale, which is bonkers because of the upkeep costs to the social landlord and the misery it will cause the residents!

It’s an area where very little work has been done, I think this is due to the ‘Design and Build’ culture and because of EU procurement. You can name the product and if you do this you can go straight to the manufacturer and cut out the middle man.

I think all the above is caused by an attempt to drive the overall build costs down.

Should this be a higher priority?

Yes, I think it should be number one, and I think the Hackitt report and the Farmer report sets the context for this. If YOU build a product it is YOUR reputation on the line.