05 May 2017

The above phrase is not just the title of a classic 80s ballad (Cher, for those that are interested), but also my fervent wish to resolve so many of the issues that affect the recovery of our economy and property in particular.  Turning back time would allow sensible people the opportunity to change decisions and re-think failed strategies.  It would enable the woefully downtrodden business owners of the province to change the way politicians treat the wealth creators of this region.  We could finally get the government we need rather than the collection of ineffective individuals who appear to have run our public finances into a seemingly bottomless black hole and then paid for them to go up in smoke!

Sadly, no such genuine opportunity for time travel exists, but if there were, what would I change to make our regional property economy function more effectively?

Once I had sorted the numbskulls who designed Belfast’s bus lanes, I’d focus on  our planning service and populate it with properly motivated and professional staff, free from  political interference, genuinely interested in regional development and task them with making actual planning decisions rather than implementing another inquiry/judicial review every time a major scheme is proposed.  Regional planning infrastructure should be concise, effective and workable rather than the convoluted confusion that, in my experience, exists today. 

Vacant rating policy is, in my view, a genuinely unfair tax.  Rates were always intended to be a tax on the consumption of public services by property occupiers.  They cover a range of services, the majority of which require actual occupation to create a cost.  The public servant who thought up the wheeze of charging people a tax simply for owning a vacant property deserves a visit from our time machine to persuade him to think again!

Public sector tenants need to learn how to treat occupational property and not turn every office they occupy into a sad reflection of its original state.  Coupled with the former Land and Property Service policy of inflicting the Modern Government Lease on the landlords of this region, public sector occupiers now seem to believe that they should further undermine investment values by refusing to renew leases for longer than a five- year term.  This is to allow them the flexibility to commission huge public expenditure on new public sector “hub” buildings and walk away from existing stock.  Am I the only one who sees the insanity of this plan?  More public sector money spent on brand new public sector buildings and little thought as to how their plan will be paid for or its effect on those landlords and developers who continued to build in Belfast throughout the past turbulent years.  I would like my time machine to drop me off in the meeting that decided upon this new strategy.

Obviously, a time machine would allow us the benefit of hindsight and give us the opportunity to avoid costly mistakes .  Many years ago I was told that “those who do not remember the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them”.  As I watch our politicians go through an all-too-familiar process, all I can see is a repeat of errors past and I haven’t even mentioned Brexit yet.  Bet you like my time machine idea now!

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