14 November 2022

Blog from Mathew Ditchburn, outgoing Chair of the PLA

Blog from Mathew Ditchburn, outgoing Chair of the PLA

It’s strange to think that I have already come to the end of my year as chair of the PLA.  It seems to have gone quickly although, to be fair, in that time we’ve seen two monarchs, three prime ministers and four chancellors of the exchequer, so perhaps I did well to last as long as I did. 

I started my chairship thinking that being chair of the PLA was the greatest privilege a property litigator could have.  At the end of my term I know that to be true.  I have been amazed by the strength of this association, the commitment of its members and the incredibly hard and excellent work put in by the members of the executive and all the various sub-committees that report into them. I salute you all.  

The one thing that any Chair would want to say is that their organisation is bigger and better at the end of their terms of office than it was at the start.  I am very pleased to be able to say that is true of the PLA, although I certainly don’t claim the credit.  Membership has grown, and its revenues are up, but equally outgoings have increased, reflecting the significant investment that we have made in the new website, laying on events for our members and working to raise the PLA’s relevance, credibility and influence in the market.

The first of many changes during my chairship was the appointment of a permanent treasurer in the form of Anna Mullins, enabling us to keep an even firmer grip on our association’s finances.  

Another important first was the first in-person annual conference since the pandemic.  It was certainly one of my proudest moments as Chair to be able to address the association in person in Oxford in March on the Friday morning, even if I was feeling the effects of the PLA’s famous hospitality from the night before!

Credit for that (the conference, not my hangover) goes to Rob Shaw and the Education and TrainingCommittee, and also of course Tim Power of TPS, without whom so much PLA business just would not get done.  As well as the conference, Rob (who now steps down as ETC chair) and his team put together the Autumn Training Day last November, run as a hybrid event as part of our campaign to make the PLA as accessible to as many members as possible.  And it worked, with 460 people watching by livestream in addition to those in the room.  

The rise of virtual and hybrid events has also been a theme of the Junior PLA’s work in the past year, with Lindsey Whittle taking over as Chair from Anna.  I have been glad to see the JPLA host more in-person networking events too, including the first Bring a Property Professional event – which, as far as I can tell, is like a Bring a Surveyor event but with the added excitement of bailiffs.  Other highlights from 2022 include the International Women’s Day panel event and several “nuts and bolts” training sessions.

The same is true of the Regions, chaired by Paul Barker, who have arranged popular in-person and livestreamed social and training events both at a local and national level.  Paul and the regional Chairs have all proved that the PLA is truly a national organisation with representation in all corners of the UK.  

Law reform is a key focus of the PLA, with our mantra that laws should be changed not in the interests of one lobby group or another but in the wider interest of making the law work better for everyone.  We are the experts in the field of property law but also the honest brokers when it comes to reforming and modernising the law.  This weighty responsibility falls to Peter Bourke and the Law Reform Committee.

In the last year we have seen a major piece of work around the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Act, working with the Property Bar Association to make written submissions and attend meetings with Government to give our views.  We even gained traction with the House of Lords when our views were aired in their debates over the bill.

Then we’ve had the Renters Reform Bill and the abolition of section 21, which has been on and off and on again, and the novel proposal for high street rental auctions.  

The Law Commission’s promised 14th Programme of Law Reform is yet to see the light of day but through the LRC’s efforts I am confident that we have put commercial leasehold high up the Government’s reform agenda.  

The PLA is launching its own research project into the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954: what works and what doesn’t; should it kept, tweaked, abolished or replaced?  We are working on this with the PLA’s academic members and all PLA members should expect to be called upon soon when we launch our own survey and consultation.  

The PLA’s new website is an incredible piece of work.  Thanks to Mark Reading (who now takes over as PLA Vice-Chair) and the Website and Marketing Committee, not only does the new website look better, it is better, with greatly enhanced functionality.  The new “Hub” is an unrivalled online resource of property law webinars, podcasts, papers, panel debates and more besides.

I was particularly pleased during my time as Chair to have formalised wellbeing into an official committee with representation on the executive.  We know that wellbeing is an issue of fundamental importance to our members, and it is good that we are finally reflecting that.  We now have a committee of six members, chaired by Frances Richardson.  Already we’ve had a host of wellbeing events and a hybrid panel event with more to come next year, including speed mentoring and a focus on men’s mental health.

Finally, thanks to two very important people from my time as Chair.  The first is Dellah Gilbert, who now takes over as Chair and will be absolutely brilliant, having been a fantastic Vice-Chair and Honorary Secretary for the past year.  The second is Lizzie Cook, the PLA’s President, who has been gracious, patient, wise and generous with her time.  And she’s a Tolkien fan so that makes her okay in my books.  Thank you both for all that you do for the PLA.

So that was me, the last Chairman of the PLA.  I’ve achieved my aim of officially abolishing that antiquated expression and in future there will be only gender neutral PLA Chairs.  Next, I’d like to abolish the term landlord, which I consider to be equally antiquated and sexist, but something tells me that it will take rather more than a year!  Thank you all, and long live the PLA.

Mathew Ditchburn
Outgoing Chair of the PLA