I was reading through some of my occasional blog reads today, when I came across this post on Technovia, the weblog of former MacUser editor Ian Betteridge. He tells the tale of a developer in Brighton which has violated its planning permission and is suffering as a result. From this he draws the rather mysterious conclusion that all property developers are scum.
Now, maybe it’s because I’ve just spent a day in a conference centre full of property developers, and maybe it’s because they form a large part of the readership of EG, and thus help keep me employed, but I really don’t think property developers are scum. Commercial property development is a risky game. You put all the money up front, often buying sites without the planning permission you need. You then have to run the gauntlet of the council’s planning process, which can vary wildly from county to county. You have to agree a Section 106 agreement which, in essence, means you agree to give up some of your profit to improve the locality in a way the council directs, before you see a single penny of that profit. Then, once your building is done, you have to rely on the vagaries of the property letting market. Property development takes years. Misjudge your start point – or have it pushed back too far by the planning process – and suddenly you can find yourself with a multi-million pound investment with no return, as many developers in the City of London are finding right now. (Too many buildings, not enough occupiers in the market.) And you have to put up with the opinion of every member of the public and local newspaper hack who decides that just because something is big and obvious, they understand the issues involved.
Sure, there are a lot of very rich people in property development, as our recent Rich List in EG proved. However, a lot of people lose a lot of money too. Without property developers, our built environment would never more forwards. Have you seen council-built developments? Would you like to live or work in one? No, I thought not. Property developers are businessmen like any other. Sure, some are scum. Most, however, are decent people committed to decent improvements to our built environment.