The value of a good reputation for building safety

There has been encouraging growth in the value of new construction orders throughout 2021 with many firms’ order books remaining very healthy.

However, once these projects come to market, residential developers face the challenge of selling new homes to buyers who for the past 12 months and beyond have read headlines about historic safety failures, with building developers often portrayed as the culprits. Research from our Building Safety Unit found that 49% of British adults said the issue of cladding had negatively affected their confidence in new build housing.

The climate of mistrust, and dip in the industry’s reputation, has affected the political landscape too. Surrey Councillor Robert Evans recently urged borough and district councils not to approve planning applications for new housing until the applicant has got their buildings already in use signed off as safe.

And while the Secretary of State made clear this month that the Government’s ‘polluter pays’ approach to recovering remediation costs brands not just developers, but all parties involved in the building process, the polluters, he was also clear that developers are not absolved of accountability. Removing the Consolidated Advice Note ‘before Christmas’ may free up lending and sales for a vast swathe of sub-18 metre buildings, but any further implications for the industry beyond the already announced 4% developer levy, remain unknown.

With this uncertainty, what can businesses do to regain trust? And should they even try?

The answer to the second question is a definite ‘yes’. An organisation’s good reputation is key in this most difficult of circumstances. A consistent and well thought-out approach to building safety issues will reap dividends with potential homebuyers, according to the Building Safety Unit research. When questioned, 68 per cent of adults in Great Britain said they were more likely to buy a new build apartment where the building’s developer had taken steps to proactively fix fire safety defects in other buildings they have developed.

In practice, this means having a consistent approach to building safety, to demonstrate a track record of taking action where it is required. Openness about the issues faced and how they will be dealt with, and an admission of mistakes where appropriate, also goes a long way towards rebuilding trust in an organisation when the sector is suffering.

Being clear and transparent with stakeholders, and particularly with homeowners and other residents, will build trust not just for future homebuyers, but their elected representatives who will make the decisions affecting the sector for years to come. Building a good reputation now is vital to shape the future, economically and politically.

Ros Selby works in BECG’s Building Safety Unit, which advises clients across the built environment sector on reputational issues.

This article was first published in Housebuilder Magazine’s Dec 2021/Jan 2022 edition, you can read it here.