"The question is how fast the economy can 'get out of the blocks'": Leith Planning Group chief discusses the future of the UK economy after Covid-19
Chris Plenderleith is the executive chairman of Leith Planning Group. In this special feature, Plenderleith spoke to The Parliamentary Review about how Leith Planning Group has met the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, what it will do in future to help turbo-charge fiscal policy and what the government can do to help the UK economy get 'out of the blocks' again.
First and foremost, Plenderleith felt that Leith Planning was well placed to deal with the logistical challenge of having staff working from home at such short notice. Plenderleith explained:
"For the Leith Planning Group, our systems were paperless, and we'd embraced Microsoft 'Teams' prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"These systems had been fire tested with home working and this has resulted in a fairly seamless transition to 100 per cent home working".
Of course, this throws up challenges with regards to building a rapport not just with clients but also with maintaining a team environment and keeping tabs on staff welfare. However, Plenderleith believes there are measures in place to ensure this remains accounted for, too. He said:
"The mental and physical welfare of our staff is being carefully monitored by our coach Johanna Lucketti with regular telephone counselling and coaching. Staff training has also continued using teams and remains in place.”
"The rapport with clients, most of whom are home working, is working effectively and we continue to protect their interests."
There are, therefore, measures in place to navigate the coronavirus storm, but what about after it has passed and one is left to grapple with new challenges brought about by the fallout? Plenderleith said:
"Having put in place the aforementioned measures as chairman, I believe we have to talk about investment post Covid-19. The government has clearly adjusted its spending levels and tax rates to support the national economy during the crisis."
As a result of this, Plenderleith explains, the public purse will undoubtedly be hit, but the economy can doubtless be re-energised. For Plenderleith, fiscal policy will be one of the keys to doing so.
"It is clear that the public finances will have taken a beating during the crisis, it's inevitable. However, fiscal policy post Covid 19 will be critical to re-energise the economy. The question is how fast can the economy ‘get out of the blocks'.”
"At Leith Planning, we are exploring ways to turbo-charge fiscal policy, specifically with regards to infrastructure which can be pump primed by the government, on the understanding that government investment is matched by the private sector and projects act as an economic catalyst.”
"It is, therefore, a matter of enabling and promoting partnerships between government, local government and the private sector.”
Plenderleith's idea centres around fiscal pump priming of projects that will deliver in the short and medium term, injecting confidence in the construction sector and wider economy.
"The key", Plenderleith said, "is to ensure that projects are driven by a collaboration of public and private investment; collaboration committed to breaking down barriers and unlocking private sector investment.
And Plenderleith did not come without examples of this in practice.
"A great example of this approach is the Southern Rail Access into Heathrow and potential mini Canary Wharf it could create within the borough of Hounslow; to include land owned by Heathrow, Hounslow and private landowners.
"On the Grange Hotel site alone, the rail access, construction of a station at East Bedfont and associated transport links would allow Grange to develop its Conference Hotel, which has already been approved. It would also support the construction of a Residential Mansion Block Scheme for key workers; workers that are risking everything during the current pandemic. In other words, these would be 'homes for today's heroes'.
"The Grange development alone represents a £500 million pound investment of private sector funds, and this is made possible by pump priming and committing to the Southern Rail Access. This project, therefore, could be a great example of fiscal pump priming."
It was certainly apt for Plenderleith to refer to the example of a potential "mini Canary Wharf". Plenderleith himself was actively involved with the design of the Docklands Light Rail system which helped facilitate Canary Wharf as we know it.
It is also worth considering the possibility of a Development Corporation made up of the key players, tasked with delivering growth, investment and housing.
Yet, even with that in mind, Plenderleith also had examples closer to Leith Planning's roots that he was able to refer to.
"Here at Leith Planning, we are working with Jane Cole of Blackpool Transport, looking at how best to expand the public transport network up on the Fylde Coast, to best stimulate economic growth and investment.”
"Again, we are collaborating with people in this case who have a strong track record of delivery."
This article presents the views of Chris Plenderleith, executive chairman of Leith Planning Group and the co-author of the December 2019 Local Government Association commissioned research report, titled: "Combined Authorities - Collaboration on Housing and Planning. Leith Planning is a boutique town and country planning consultancy with offices in London and Lancashire. The Group includes: construction, investment and property management arms.