I made a mistake tonight. I went to bed with the website https://blockgeeks.com/guides/what-is-blockchain-technology/ as my reading material. Rather than lull me to sleep my brain won’t stop throwing around solutions to all my property related problems.
When I was asked to speak at the Future:PropTech conference on Thursday 4 May I envisaged talking about future-proofing developments with the right cables for special Amazon Dash buttons all over the place and faster Netflix viewing while simultaneously using your laptop and phone. I did consider that there was a smarter way to solve my two biggest issues – access to capital and planning – but I had no idea how. A simple tweet asking my followers to highlight their burning questions for the event lead me to blockchain solutions. Concerned I’d appear a dinosaur in front of this tech crowd I consulted Google. My mind is blown.
Rather than relying on my definition of blockchain please read the comprehensive guide above. Essentially though, as I understand, it’s about the immediate sharing of blocks of information throughout the chain – the internet. Instantaneously, transparently and, most exciting for me, efficiently. Transactions can then take place once these blocks of information match as required.
Inspired by my research, in the lead up to Future:PropTech I’m going to take you through my three biggest problems as a property developer and how I believe, or hope, blockchain will solve these issues.
My biggest headache right now is planning, or the lack of it. As reported in The Times online today (http://bit.ly/2qmjELR ) a report by the National House Building Council NHBC found that the ‘“complexity, unpredictability and inconsistency” of Britain’s planning system is driving small developers away from housebuilding and slowing down attempts to tackle the housing crisis’.
A third of small developers wait over a year for planning approval. A year! With all those financing costs (another problem I’ll address tomorrow). This report matches up with my own experience. We have half a dozen projects currently in planning. Four of these projects have been with the planners for over 12 months. The planners have all the information, the applications are valid. They’re just waiting for sign off. But still they sit, waiting.
Let’s imagine this however. Rather than every architect submitting their own version of a design and access statement, plans, various surveyors’ reports etc and then completing the online application let’s suppose there’s a standardised format for applications. This format is designed to marry up with the decision making flowchart used by planners when assessing an application. If the applicant ticks the correct boxes and the forms match the planning policy of the local authority then surely 90% of the application could be processed without any human interaction? A human could then be involved in the final check and rubber stamping.
A very simplistic example, bearing in mind I’m not a town planner, architect or planning consultant – I want to build six flats above a retail premises in Shoreditch. The information matching process would be something like this:
– Do I have the correct zoning? A1 with ancillary residential; check.
– All surrounding buildings are in London stock brick and I want to build in London stock bricks; check.
– There are no overlooking windows and a right of light report states that there are no issues with neighbouring buildings; check and check.
– With only six flats there are no social housing issues; check.
– There are a mix of larger and smaller flats; check.
– However I do want to go up three stories when the surrounding building are two; red flag.
The blockchain will instantly process this application marrying up and the information that meets the planning policy and flagging any issues. The planning team made up of the planning officer, design officer and conservation officer will meet every afternoon and review the day’s applications. Each issue will be reviewed and an application will be written up for approval (instantly of course) or feedback given on the changes required and why.
How long could this whole process take? A couple of days. Planners would no longer be burdened down and overworked because the system would be automated leaving them free to do the intellectual tasks they must enjoy rather than the menial box checking (and avoiding calls) that is an inevitable part of the job now.
With land and sites a finite resource there’s hardly going to be a rush on applications just because the system is now efficient. Instead what would happen is that the system would flow allowing house builders to focus on building our way out of the housing crisis.
Tomorrow I’ll discuss access to capital and my solution to a broken model.
Nicole Bremner, founder of East Eight and London Central Developments.