Q: You were appointed Managing Director of Highwood late in 2017 and have spent more than 30 years in the construction industry. How do you see the future of housebuilding?
A: I don’t believe there are too many fundamental issues with the UK economy at the moment; growth is positive, but slow, which is mainly due to business leaders waiting for Brexit to run its course in 2019/20. I think many British companies are undervalued because of this and the construction industry is no exception. However, the Government has put considerable pressure on the construction industry to deliver over 300,000 homes per annum over the next few years in order to solve the current housing dilemma, which means there’s a great opportunity for Highwood to be established as a significant player in the regional development market.
Collaboration with our equity partner, Vivid, at Stoneham is a prime example of how we may be able to go some way to solving the housing crisis. As Government subsidy for affordable housing diminishes, we’re seeing registered providers like Vivid stepping in as potential developers and partnering with Highwood to utilise our key development and residential management skills.
Q: What are the biggest challenges the industry is facing today and how would Highwood resolve them?
A: There are two issues that are of particular concern at the moment: firstly, the continual price rises we’re experiencing – especially with regard to the cost of materials. World markets dictate the strengths and weaknesses in our buying power here in the UK where we’re finding that materials such as timber are increasing well ahead of RPI. This is a real cause for concern, notably for build contracts lasting over a year.
Secondly, this is an industry that falls short on marketing our business and making it sufficiently attractive for the next generation to choose a career in the construction sector. We need campaigns at both national and regional level to impact and persuade people to join us; indeed, we need project managers, surveyors, architects and engineers if we’re to deliver the volumes the Government is asking for.
Q: You’ve implemented an aggressive recruitment strategy in recent months, what’s driving the Highwood talent pool growth?
A: Any business that grows almost 400% in three years is going to face challenges and we need to continue to attract the right staff to sustain this remarkable growth effectively. Here at Highwood we’re able to offer employees a business that is diverse, experienced in different markets, a great place to work and has a structure that encourages people to work as a team. At the top of our agenda is the need to retain staff and provide them with the incentive and benefits to remain with us on a journey that looks set to see Highwood thrive for many years to come.
Q: Highwood has significant experience in later years/care home developments – is the current balance of this and new home development likely to shift either way in the future?
A: At Highwood our workload is split between residential housing and retirement/care. The latter market is certainly one in which we have considerable expertise having built over 20 schemes since Highwood’s inception as a business. We’re all living longer and, with the ratio of older generations in this country growing at a faster rate than the working population, we believe this particular market is sustainable over the next few years as elderly care becomes a greater issue for the Government to tackle.
Q: The Highwood reach: do you have any plans to expand your areas of operation from your south coast base to other areas of the UK?
A: Our current area of operations extends from the M5 in the west to the M23 in the east and the M4 in the north. We have no plans to expand this geographic reach.
Q: Do you have a message or advice for landowners looking to exploit the potential for development on their land?
A: Don’t try and aim too high for land values and accept that the planning process in this country is long and arduous; be realistic about timescales.