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Five Minutes with Liz Peace, CBE - Chief Executive of The British Property Federation

Irwin Mitchell spent 5 minutes with Liz Peace to seek her views on some topical issues affecting the property industry

Liz Peace

If you had 5 minutes with David Cameron, what key issues would you ask him to address for the UK property industry?

“I’d want to spend the first couple of minutes giving him the hard sell on what the property industry does for the UK economy – which I am not sure the senior politicians ever really get. Then I’d thank him for leaving SDLT alone and ask him (slightly tongue in cheek) if he might want to consider reducing it to 2% – on the grounds that he’d probably make just as much money, if not more, than he does at the moment. And then I’d finish up with a few specific asks on Empty Property Rates, liberalising the REIT regime and supporting regeneration through a more attractive tax/rates regime for Enterprise Zones and Tax Increment Financing. And on my way out, I’d congratulate him for his stand on planning reform, despite being pilloried by middle England and the Daily Telegraph.”

What does the future hold for the UK high street?

“You can’t reverse social change, especially when most people would consider it was change for the better. By which I mean, of course, the range of choice that we now have in retail. Lots of people say they want vibrant High Streets – but they still like the convenience of being able to visit and park at out of town supermarkets, shopping centres and retail parks. So inevitably most High Streets are going to change and almost certainly shrink. But it’s up to the local authorities, town councils, and other stakeholders to work out and plan for vibrant places that meet community needs in lots of different ways and not just through traditional retail – and that will require thinking outside the box, bringing in new non-obvious uses and being flexible about planning. I sincerely hope landlords will be willing to play their part in this process.”

What do you like best about your job and what is the toughest part of your job?

“I love the variety and the huge range of people that I meet. I can pick up the phone to just about anybody and they are always willing to talk, whether it is about property tax, heritage, regeneration, wind turbines or space for artists. It is also great when we have a big battle on our hands, such as the recent very public dispute over planning. That really gets the adrenalin going, as does a big lobbying success! I could also say I like the parties – but that might make me sound too flippant! The worst part is having to work so hard to persuade people to pay to support the BPF. Everybody I talk to says we do a fantastic job and the industry couldn’t manage without us. I am hugely grateful to those companies who support us year in year out, but there are others who are benefitting from the fruits of our lobbying efforts who seem reluctant to contribute their share of our very modest costs.”

What key measures do you think would kick start the housing market?

“I really don’t get the housing market. Surely high demand should encourage more supply which would in turn cause the price to fall (well that was what I learnt in my A Level economics!!!). But it just doesn’t seem to happen like that. I shall be interested to see what results we get from the mortgage guarantee scheme and also whether putting more public sector land into the market makes a difference. But we at the BPF have for some time been supporting a whole new approach to housing provision through the expansion of good quality, large scale rented accommodation, funded by institutional level investment. This is going to require significant cultural change to get people off the idea that the only way to access good housing is through home ownership – but there’s a big prize here, not just for property people who can make a business out of this, but society at large that can benefit from more choice and more flexibility at a price they can actually afford.”