If any regeneration adviser can conjure up a magic box of solutions to the current financial impasse, it’s David Taylor.
The experienced former head of English Partnerships and Amec Regeneration, Taylor is a board member of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and deputy chairman of the ODA planning committee. He is also chairman of housing market renewal body Elevate East Lancashire; former adviser to John Prescott on the creation of regional development agencies; and part of the private development team for a 5,000-home scheme in Silvertown Quays and a 3,000-home scheme in Canada Water, both in London.
Not surprising then, that Taylor was asked by senior government officials to write a working paper offering practical solutions to kickstart the housing market. ‘The public sector is very poor at experimenting – it loves a formula,’ says Taylor, who operates from a base in Preston, where he arrived 25 years ago to set up the much-copied economic support agency Lancashire Enterprises. Perched on a sofa in his converted townhouse office, with a trimmed moustache, a rich Scottish accent and a mix of diplomatic charm and blunt realism, it’s easy to see how Taylor represents good value in the boardroom.
Taylor’s paper, which he submitted last month, stresses the importance of rebuilding the mortgage market and the need for new mortgage products for the many bankable people still in the UK. Taylor also suggests that banks take equity in homes instead of deposits for the generation of non-savers. He puts forward alternative uses for vacant sites to keep them active, such as car parks to prevent ‘secondary dereliction’.
Taylor also recommends more spending on infrastructure to allow, in particular, the continued development of larger sites, and stresses that public bodies need to be far more flexible and entrepreneurial. He is pinning great hopes on the new Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to do just that. The HCA, formed at the beginning of December, replaces English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation.
‘When I was at English Partnerships, we got stuck in and tried different things,’ says Taylor. ‘If I was at the HCA, I would be speaking almost immediately to providers of finance, both publicly and privately, asking what the constraints are and are there ways we could help.’
Taylor rates Bob Kerslake highly, the chief executive of the HCA who left the same post at Sheffield City Council to run the £17 billion a year agency. Since taking on the role, Kerslake has stressed his willingness to be flexible, pledging to increase funding to private developers to acquire unsold stock for use as social housing, as well as promising more generous grant rates and joint-venture arrangements.
Despite Taylor’s vast experience in bolstering housing markets, he hasn’t managed to avoid the credit crunch. He’s currently seeking financing for Silvertown Quays, his joint venture with developer Kajima, with planning to build 5,000 homes, a new marine aquarium designed by Terry Farrell, plus retail and leisure facilities. The first phase of the scheme – masterplanned by Toronto’s Urban Strategies and involving architects PKS, Maccreanor Lavington and Jestico + Whiles – was ready to start on site when the market sunk.
‘We’re currently looking at a refinancing package,’ says Taylor. ‘We’re making progress and speaking to one or two interested parties. The banks previously had an appetite for funding whole projects, but now they want to share the load. It’s not easy in this market and I’ve never known anything like it.’
Taylor’s development experience has been essential to his role at Elevate East Lancashire, where the housing market is particularly fragile and partner developers including Keepmoat and Gleeson are losing their appetite.
‘We’re battling to keep some of these partnerships going and developers involved,’ he says.
Hopefully, by sharing his regeneration know-how, Taylor will help thaw the market sooner rather than later