Thames Tap Quarterly

Federation calls for SMEs to be central to Tory new homes plan

The Conservative Party has pledged to kick-start a new era of council and housing association builds as part of its General Election manifesto – and the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has called for SMEs to be central to the development of the policy.

The response comes as the Government released its manifesto and expanded upon its current target of building one million new homes by 2020 to 1.5 million homes by 2022.

The Government will also utilise its land, including derelict land, to build 160,000 homes. There will be a greater emphasis on building high quality homes with a higher density.

Sarah McMonagle, director of external affairs at the FMB, welcomed the Conservative Party’s acknowledgement of the scale of the housing crisis but warned these targets could only be achieved by enabling a greater mix of companies within the house building sector.

She said:The decline in the number and output of smaller local house builders over the past few decades has led to the industry’s capacity haemorrhaging. To deliver the PM’s vision we will need to reverse this. The manifesto’s explicit pledge to diversify the delivery of new homes is therefore extremely welcome. Key to doing this will be being able to build on some of the sensible reforms outlined in the recent Housing White Paper, which we hope to see implemented.”

“The Conservative Party’s manifesto sets out an ambition not only to build more, but to build better. There is a welcome emphasis on balancing the pressure for increasing the delivery of new properties with the need to deliver those homes to a high standard. As is widely recognised, smaller scale house builders have a strong focus on quality. By supporting greater diversity in terms of the companies building our new homes, a Conservative Government would be killing two birds with one stone. This is a vision that SMEs can build on.”

Backing SMEs is a good move as the sector is a consistent contributor to the Exchequer. The rise of the ‘gig economy’ and the concerns of SMEs over recruitment, over-regulation and over-taxation have become a vocal part of the election mix and, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, over the last decade the number of self-employed workers in the UK has surged from 3.8 million to nearly 4.7 million. The figure has risen by 174,000 in the last year alone with 15% of the entire UK workforce now self-employed.

Estate agents can now offer superior digital experience

The traditional High Street estate agent has been further empowered to take the fightback to the digital disruptors by a new suite of products from OneDome, the technology company behind discovery tool Locality Reality.

The product toolkit – basically a series of web apps – means an agency will enjoy digital capabilities superior to that of hybrid or pure online estate agents and offer a hybrid service as part of its current offering.

Three new digital toolkits for agency websites – ‘Discovery Pack’, ‘Vendor Pack’, and ‘Buyer Pack’ – give agents new ways to engage customers on their site using innovative online booking tools and a secure communications platform. The result is that any agent can now engage with current and potential customers 24/7 without the significant resources and financial outlay required to develop and maintain such technology.

The new estate agency products come after OneDome’s successful December launch of the ‘Locality Reality’ area search tool. Featured as a ‘Top Property App’ by both The Times and the Evening Standard, the site recorded almost a million page views in a very short period of time from consumers exploring the facets of any given postcode in England and Wales.

Babek Ismayil, founder and CEO of OneDome, said: “Consumer trends are changing at an ever-accelerating rate. A select few have exploited this and profited. The problem is that a lot of people have been left behind. We are here to make sure those people have technology that works for them, not against them. Technology should empower not disrupt, it should connect not displace, and it should be available to everyone.

“We created OneDome to assist consumers and property professionals in navigating the property acquisition process in the easiest way possible. We know from personal experience how unnecessarily stressful it can be. From start to completion, the process is frequently slow, arduous and totally lacking in the technological innovation that we’ve seen in other sectors and that consumers increasingly expect.

“Our aim is to become the leading online platform for property professionals. These web tools are just the first step to realising our vision. We will empower both agents and their customers, and transform the entire property experience.”

Cambridge’s first budget electric bike reviewed

The election of the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough on May 4 generated some lively campaigning, not least from the independent candidate, local businessman Peter Dawe.

Although the political race is run it’s clear that Dawe has a deep interest in and commitment to the region and is intent on developing the social enterprise themes explored during his campaign. Ongoing projects include an offer to take on the Broadway Theatre in Peterborough, the Fenland Modular Homes factory plan and the launch of the Cambridge Electric Transport Company, which is preparing to retail a range of “Peter’s Pedals” electric bikes.

The first model in the range is the £700 eBike which proved to be a lot of fun in the week I had it on test – it’s surprising how quickly you can get used to going electric, not least because it’s a lot faster than pedal power and means you can whizz along the river effortlessly overtaking runners and push-bikers alike.

The practical details are straightforward: the eBike has a 250W brushless rear motor and is powered by a lithium battery which takes four hours to charge (closer to six if it needs a 100% recharge). Billed as a budget model, it has a 35-mile range with a top speed of 16mph. There’s built-in front and rear LED lights which you activate via push-buttons on an LED display panel on the left handlebar. The panel shows which of three speed modes you’re in and how much battery power you have left.

Each speed mode affects your range – in ‘High’ mode you’re going to run the battery down faster than in the middle mode, and much more quickly than in eco/low mode, so that 35-mile range would come down to something closer to 20 miles if you stay in top gear. This more rapid battery drain incentivises you to plan your mileage and journey times carefully. If you’re in a hurry, the charge goes down much faster, so it’s not a bad idea factor in extra time so you can travel further more slowly. And why not, if you have time to enjoy the view…

Looks-wise the eBike is smart and functional. The frame makes it easy for women riders to get on and off. The saddle is comfortable and all the instrumentation is easy to use, even in the dark. It’s hard not to feel familiar with the set-up even after a couple of hours, and it’s easy to ride and control – unlike the Haibike Nduro I tested a while back, which was an uncontrollable beast. But then that costs £6,000 – you could buy eight of these eBikes for that price and still have change for a spa holiday.

In terms of effort, you don’t have to actually push – you turn the wheels to keep the electric power in play, but you don’t need much muscle power to turn the pedals. If you do pedal as per a conventional bike your legs meet minimal resistance, akin to what pedalling’s like when the chain comes off. This inertia is peculiar to start with but, with familiarity, makes eBike cycling rather graceful, except when you’re setting off. This requires a knack because it takes a second for the electric power to kick in, so you’re working the pedals and for a moment there’s no response, then the motor kicks in and you’re away. You basically need to give the bike a shove to set off smoothly.

The eBike is suitable for all ages, though at 25kg needs a bit of oomph to lift, but the rack above the rear wheel helps you hoik it over kerbs, and the stand makes it easy to park up. It’s simple to get the battery pack out and put it back. The charging-up process is very straightforward. There’s nothing here likely to go wrong and the Chinese OEM has made it as easy as possible to operate and run.

As cycleway networks expand and links between villages and city are enhanced, electric cycles offer excellent value for money while ensuring that trips to and from the workplace mean never having to break sweat. The eBike qualifies for the government-backed Cycle to Work scheme for employees, so ask your employer if that’s an option for you.

But regardless of whether you’re a business or a private user, the eBike has considerable merit and marks a new and more affordable era for existing and new cyclists. Peter’s Pedals is helping turns electric bikes into appealing low-cost consumer items and that’s got to be a good thing. Did you know that if the UK had the same cycling levels as Copenhagen we would cut our CO2 emissions by 25%? Every option to head in this direction has to be welcomed and hats off to Peter Dawe for putting his money where his mouth is to get the ball rolling – hope that’s not too awkward an image – without statutory powers or tapayers’ money.

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Property ‘safer’ post-Brexit, say investors

A survey of 1,100 UK investors has revealed that Brexit and the snap General Election have impacted UK investment decisions more than any other political event in their lifetime – and respondents are increasingly focusing their attention on traditional asset classes such as property as a result.

More than a third (34%) – the equivalent of 10 million investors across the country – said that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has drastically affected the way they manage their investment strategies, according to the research by lending platform Kuflink.

This view was particularly prominent among investors aged between 18 and 34 and those in London, where the figure jumped to 61% and 71% respectively. Furthermore, Kuflink’s research showed that the uncertainty caused by the snap General Election is prompting greater caution among some investors; 38% of UK investors said that they would be waiting until after 8 June to make further investment decisions.

During this period of significant economic transformation, the survey also revealed that investors deem property investment to be safer. Almost two-fifths (38%) of the investors surveyed said that they are currently less inclined to pursue newer or lesser-known investment classes amid uncertainty surrounding unfolding political and economic events – this equates to more than 11 million investors across the UK. Furthermore, 30% of the country’s investors (8.78 million people) stated that over the course of the 2017/18 financial year, they would be directing their attention to traditional asset classes such as property.

Tarlochan Garcha, CEO of Kuflink, said: “The EU referendum has set in motion a number of political and economic shifts that are inevitably impacting the way the UK’s investors think and act. Today’s research has underlined the faith people place in property as an investment vehicle, with a huge number of investors gravitating towards this safe haven asset amidst the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the approaching General Election. There is undeniable investment value in retrospective data and historical evidence to support the strength of any investment class. For this reason, I have great faith in the resilience and strength of the UK property market and take confidence in the fact that UK investors agree.”

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