Following the Housing Minister, Esther McVey’s announcement to release data held by local bodies to support the development of the UK property technology (PropTech) sector, Shoosmiths real estate partners Mehar Patel and David Perry offer their views.

Mehar sees the announcement as a positive thing for the industry:

“With an ever increasing population, most of which will want to experience home ownership, it’s great to see our government push an agenda on making it easier for the private sector to utilise public sector data, which I expect will make it easier for developers to find new sites with previously unrecognised development potential.

“Unlocking planning information and standardising planning portals across the hundreds of local authorities will inevitably make planning applications easier to make, find and, ultimately, get approved. It’s the perfect blend of the public sector unlocking doors for the private sector, with the common ambition of increasing the supply of homes – and more specifically, homes that are suitable for our future generations – another great step towards the increasing humanisation of real estate.”

David agrees but recognises that this isn’t necessarily something that is entirely new:

“From a land perspective, any initiative that helps to drive opportunity has to be welcomed, as there is a continuing shortfall of housing supply to demand. We shouldn’t forget the existing Homes England Land Hub that helps identify available public sector land for development, nor that a number of larger land owners already have their own processes (including GIS surveying) to identify surplus land within their stock that could be developed. The national and major regional housebuilders already have very developed methods for site identification and appraisal but, by their very nature, the larger developers tend to be interested in the larger sites, and this risks leaving behind the smaller parcels that could still be brought into housing development without the costs of strategic/edge of settlement land promotion. The sector needs to encourage development in the right place, as well as development of the right type!

“What’s interesting with these initiatives is that they are focused on PropTech, rather than developers, presumably as an exercise in capacity building for the sectors that support and promote housebuilding rather than just diverting funds directly to the housebuilders themselves. We definitely lag behind tech entrepreneurs elsewhere in the world when it comes to useful data aggregation – San Francisco being the prime example of a location where public records have been turned into ‘big data’ for a greater common purpose. Here, we are likely to see the output ultimately being monetised by the PropTech providers – but it could be argued that it’s better to have reliable data at a price than no data at all, particularly as this is being aimed at the smaller developers who can’t afford to build their own data infrastructure for site spotting and tracking.”

Overall, this has to be encouraged as a good step forward – it still has to be delivered, and the take up by interested parties still needs to be assessed, but initiatives to help smaller developers access useful data on potential sites should be supported to help the overall goal of housing delivery.”

See here for more detail on the government’s plans - https://www.gov.uk/government/news/housing-minister-calls-for-a-digital-revolution-in-the-property-sector.