The Year Ahead: Karl Hick – A year of opportunity

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Although Larkfleet Group of Companies are active in a number of market sectors the two which currently dominate the business – and will do so throughout 2017 – are housebuilding and renewable energy.

In both of these areas, we are optimistic about the prospects for the year ahead.

The new housing market is driven by consumer confidence. If people are feeling optimistic about their own financial position and their future prospects then they will be willing to take on mortgages and the other expenses of moving house.

Happily, consumer confidence seems to have been largely unaffected by worries about Brexit and forecasts for the economy and consumer spending all look good for 2017.

We are waiting to see how the government actually implements the commitments to supporting the new housing market that were made in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

It is pleasing that the government clearly recognises the importance of delivering affordable housing.

We await the long-promised white paper, now due early in 2017, which will hopefully allow more flexibility in housing delivery.

We hope that this will support starter homes and private rented housing alongside traditional affordable rent and shared ownership tenures. This will help to address the housing supply issue that will then have an impact on the market overall.

Realistically, however, this will not really affect the market in 2017 for individual house builders. Therefore, the keys to success in the coming year will be the same as they were in 2016 – protecting quality at a time of skilled labour shortages, a relentless focus on customer care and, of course, building the right homes in the right locations to meet customer needs.

Our investments in 2017 will also be made with a long-term perspective and are unlikely to show a swift return.

Our research and development plans for the year include construction of an experimental ‘elevating house’ on a site near Spalding.

This novel home will rise by up to two metres above the ground on jacks if threatened by floods.

If we can prove the concept works – and can be delivered economically – it could make it possible to build on land where flood risks currently make development impossible.

We have already committed to spending money on further development of our innovative solar steam system to test its ability to bring power to poor communities in India that have no access to grid electricity.

We are planning to undertake similar research in another part of the world and hope to make an announcement about that early in 2017.

We will also continue our investment in education and training.

We are a major supporter of training initiatives, not just through our own apprenticeship and graduate recruitment programmes but through support for local colleges and sponsorship of the Greater Peterborough University Technical College.

The industry must invest in the workforce of the future if it is to survive, let alone thrive.

So, we anticipate continuing growth in our business through 2017 but, importantly, will be laying the foundations for future success through long-term investment in research, development and training.