London Real Estate Forum told – listen to ordinary Londoners

Wednesday 14 June 2017

© Bar Productions

The GLA’s David Lunts made a plea for developers to remember the needs of the communities they build in as he launched this year’s LREF in Berkeley Square last night.

Executive Director of Housing and Land Lunts, who was standing in for deputy mayor for housing James Murray, joined Westminster leader Nickie Aiken, EG’s Damian Lane and the NLA’s Nick McKeogh in officially launching the new-look show in front of an audience of the capital’s leading developers, planners and architects.

But he told them that immediately before the launch he had been sat with a group of young representatives of communities, charities, students, makers and other entrepreneurs, at the LREF Preview ‘Listening to Londoners’ event, and was struck by the idea that these were tomorrow’s important city-shapers, but who often felt disengaged: ‘Please think very carefully and very creatively to how you engage and how you work with those people in the process of change’, he said. ‘It’s really important we make a city that works for them as well.’

Earlier, Lunts made it clear that he hoped a solution could be found to movement of labour across the EU for construction and other property sectors, and that his colleagues at City Hall and London mayor Sadiq Khan remain determined to provide housing – particularly affordable – for Londoners. ‘We at City Hall want to see a steady and consistent focus on getting more homes built’, he said, noting the consensus on this issue across all parties, albeit a massive challenge.

Lunts was speaking after Westminster leader Nickie Aiken made a similar entreaty from a borough which was clear about housing being its key priority, aiming to end the ‘polarisation’ of housing in the borough. ‘Things need to change, and they need to now’, she said. ‘I want more people who work here to live here and more people who live here to remain here when they have families. We want 60% of new affordable homes to be in the intermediate market’. Aiken added that the council will this week be publishing an interim statement on planning policies to support housing delivery, setting out its approach on affordable housing and viability on payments in lieu, but her ‘City for all’ programme was not a vacuous slogan. The authority meant business, and was keen to avoid simply farming off affordable outside the borough boundary. ‘Affordable housing now needs to be front and centre of your thinking.’

Damian Lane suggested that the current political situation was like a constant loop of The Thick of It but that at least real estate’s REIT share prices had moved little compared to their ‘precipitous decline’ in the days after the referendum. The outcome of Thursday’s vote would likely only impact the timing and outcome of Brexit negotiations, he felt, not their substance. But the election may move the policy goalposts for the years ahead, and the late confirmation of housing minister Alok Sharma meant the issue ‘did not seem like an absolute priority’. More needed to be done by real estate to reach the man and woman on the street, he added, accepting that some taxes unpopular at LREF may be ones that the public want to see.

NLA’s Nick McKeogh said that although the political climate was uncertain, he was sure about the need for our industry to ‘continue to come together to help shape a better future for this great city’. The event will include some 200 speakers and 2000 delegates, starting with FT economics editor Chris Giles looking at the London economy and its impact on the development sector over the next few years.

Earlier, the first ever LREF preview: ‘Listening to Londoners’ involved presentations from people like the chief executive of Centrepoint Seyi Obakin and Holly Donagh, partnerships director of A New Direction. The latter argued in a summary session that perhaps the current system of consultation should be replaced by a more meaningful relationship, with developers ‘sharing power’ and offering more of a voice to those whose communities and lives their schemes would impact on most. ‘We’re using techniques from the dark ages’, said Donagh. ‘We need to rethink consultation.’ Lunts agreed, saying it should be more of a richer, deeper way of engagement, a process of ‘placeshaping’ that is a ‘shared endeavour’ rather than a top-down way of just ‘commodifying space’.

David Taylor

Editor, New London Quarterly 


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