By Andrew Lloyd, Managing Director of Legal Futures‘ Associate Search Acumen 
The recent months may have been filled with uncertainty, but now it is time to act decisively on some of the clear learnings that have emerged. While Covid-19 exposed the vulnerability of those in the property sector who had not already adopted digital practices, we have been encouraged by the agility that many have shown to bridge this gap.
It is imperative that the entire sector comes together to harness this fresh energy. We cannot risk losing out on the benefits that digitisation has delivered so far. To best achieve this, we must not rely on a short-term response by the minority but instead, we must see an industry wide commitment to long term digital integration.
We are firm believers that actions speak louder than words, and we are encouraged that we have seen some real tangible steps from public bodies to make this change a reality. HM Land Registry’s recent pledge to accept electronic signatures in conveyancing is one such example. Another is the launch of the ‘Planning for the Future’ Consultation by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) in a bid to reform the planning system in England.
A step change in attitudes and approach
The MHCLG’s Consultation presents an unmissable opportunity for public and private bodies to come together and address the deep-rooted challenges and antiquated methods that are embedded in the current system. We are facing a housing crisis and a complete overhaul is essential to ensure that it is fit for the future.
Few areas of the property industry are calling out for transformation more than the planning system. Over reliance on physical documents and local officials’ knowledge of the areas they manage have compounded to make the system cumbersome and outdated. This in turn creates severe delays in the entire process.
The key word for us in MHCLG’s ambitions is “modernisation”. If this shake-up fails to recognise the urgent need to enact widespread digitisation of the country’s housing industry, it will not go far enough.
The sector has neglected the use of data and technology for far too long. Now is the time to change that and this latest Consultation demonstrates a willingness to change outdated attitudes and practices and forge a new way forward.
Creating a long lasting commitment to digital change
We have long called for data to be put at the heart of planning processes. By enabling greater access to interactive maps and instant access to land and property data, conveyancers, construction companies, buyers and sellers can ensure the risks are properly assessed even before a brick has been laid.
The availability of this data digitally has huge potential to generate industry wide productivity gains, resulting in cost and time savings across the sector, all contributing to cutting delays in the planning system. Greater efficiency is essential if we are to better address the present and future housing needs of the country.
This shake-up announced is a good first step to improving the UK’s planning system but more can be done. Our priority has always been to generate better insights and more efficient outcomes for conveyancers and their clients by digitising the due diligence requirements that are crucial to a successful sale or purchase. New ways of thinking and greater collaboration around digital ways of working are needed now more than ever.
We need the property industry to be firing on all cylinders to ensure the UK economy rapidly recovers from the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the short term and to maintain the inward investment in the UK property sector in the longer term as international competition grows. This is the moment for Government to support the shift towards digital once and for all. Only once we are all working towards the same goal of accessing data and implementing technology will we be able to create a more efficient, productive and future-proofed property market.