Topic Two of the Round Table Discussions was conducted at the end of May.
Quoin Online and URERU have joined to create round table discussions which investigate and facilitate discussions on how the pandemic impacted the property industry and its processes.
Topic two was facilitated by Francois Viruly and Robert McGaffin from URERU and our two participants, Deon van Zyl, Chairman of the Western Cape Property Development Forum, and Derek Henstra, managing partner at DHK Architects.
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Under Alert Level three of lockdown, we have seen some sectors of the property industry, and its processes, return to work. Certain functions still prohibited from resuming and there are limits to the full functioning of the property industry. The perception change in space utilization and work from home practices and whether, opening up now, will be enough to combat the financial strains being felt across the globe, are two very important questions to address.
Many businesses have failed to keep their heads above water as the economy ground to a halt with the hard lockdown. Now as the economy slowly reopens, businesses are not experiencing the V-like recovery that they were hoping for. Instead, the lockdown’s consequences have led to accelerated trends in some sectors and resulted in failure in others.
Deon van Zyl, Chairman of the Western Cape Property Development Forum, coordinated the formation of the Construction Covid-19 Rapid Response Task Team representing 31 perspectives from the built environment. This group has concluded how fragmented the property industry has become. Essential parts of the industry are still closed, among them, the NHBRC and various Deeds Offices which has resulted in the halting of the process flow.
They also concluded that there is a greater need for a stronger, more robust working relationship between the public and private sector. There is an overlap in suppliers, contractors and professionals and public-private relationships will alleviate pressure and create collaborative working. This will result in a more efficient development process and ensure the swift reopening of the sector, and save many professionals from ruin.
The pandemic has accelerated certain trends and also highlighted the flaws in existing processes. This requires not only greater collaboration and smoother planning processes within the built environment but a swifter response to the perception of space and people beginning to question their workspaces. Although a specific focus during this time has been on the health sector, with prolonged social distancing regulations being imposed within the workspace, this will have a material effect on existing developments and future developments across all sectors, from health facilities, to schools and public areas.
Many cities across the world have already been focusing on the utilization of public space and have expanded streets to facilitate traffic, pedestrians and cyclists. During the pandemic, people have been using their pavements for socializing. Although the trend of decentralization has been prominent over the last decade, the pandemic may lead to greater demand for self-sufficient neighbourhoods with workplaces, shopping, healthcare and entertainment. Derick Henstra, managing partner from DHK, predicted the remodeling of areas to become “15-minute cities” where people will not have to travel far to carry out their daily routine. With this trend, the need for large shopping centres and centralized places that draw people in large numbers may not be the best model to implement. However, malls may yet continue to be favoured as the tested financial model by large institutions and banks. Despite the potential slow response by banks to adopt new thinking, smaller convenience centres with less volume may be more in demand to create these decentralized mini cities. With more people working from home and continuing to do so in the future, these self-sufficient neighbourhoods will need to cater to all their needs and improve their quality of life.
Greater proof that these smaller business nodes are profitable is required before financiers will support these developments. Industry professionals need to marry together the new demand with layout and design to create these neighbourhood developments. Urban development within the country has historically focused on the asset value of the property with little focus on location. A new balance focusing on neighbourhood developments away from the large regional developments that South Africa has become accustomed to, will need to be pursued. Local authorities will need to refocus their planning and zoning restrictions to allow for these neighbourhood developments.
South African suburbs have largely been developed as dormitory areas where people go to sleep but all other activity happens outside of the area. This requires people to travel out of their residential areas to work, shop or play. Restaurants and social activities have historically been situated in CBDs often a distance from homes. The current pandemic may see people view this very differently and local authorities, planners and developers will need to address these new needs swiftly. The use of existing CBDs with limited residential opportunities may need to be revisited to accommodate the new paradigms. Some office buildings can be repurposed as residential with people having all the amenities of traditional CBDs but the ease of working from home.
Business continuity has been interrupted in many ways and instances were processes were already slow, during the pandemic, have ground to a complete halt. An area that can see change is in plan approval. Developers, with their professionals, should be allowed to sign off on plans and fast track the projects were feasible. Demand will always drive supply and supply will happen if there is a feasible return. Market demands has changed and supply will need to be swift in order to address this. The current planning and approval processes cannot allow for a swift response.
Perhaps the pandemic will accelerate the implementation of new development and planning processes in line with the technological changes and needs of communities.