NLA’s postcards from MIPIM - A round up of the London Stand

Tuesday 14 March 2017

This year’s MIPIM began in a sunny mood as developers, architects, agents and other city-makers packed into the London stand to hear about their city, despite the rays outside.

Day One

First up for discussion was the ‘London economy: where we work’, with GVA’s Patrick O’Keeffe suggesting it was all about LUCK – location, utilisation, cost and knowledge. But diversity in our placemaking was key, he said, to keep that competitive edge.

For deputy mayor Jules Pipe, office space was as important a consideration as affordable housing, but the GLA is keen to see more intensification, and less of the kinds of ‘swathes’ of large sheds and car parks turned into housing. More mixed use is required, while high streets are too often hampered by the stipulation to introduce activity at ground level, he felt. What would help the capital hugely, however, said Pipe, is devolution of rail to the mayor, something that was especially acute following the Southern Rail experience. ‘We need to get a grip’, said. The City, too, said Carolyn Dwyer, is pushing its employment offering to the high percentage of small businesses that make up the Square Mile, and is creating better public realm to help that, starting with Bank Junction, whose transformation will begin next month.

London continues to push east in earnest, however, something that was apparent every year, said GLA’s David Lunts, when the numbers attending Barking’s presentations get larger, and the projects they talk about get more ‘tangible’. It continues to be a ‘courageous’ council but is now also one where ‘the rubber really does hit the road.’. This year was no different, with bullish B&D leader Cllr Darren Rodwell announcing the chairman of the outfit’s Be First regeneration wing as Lord Bob Kerslake – or ‘Barking Bob’ as he should henceforth be known, quipped Lunts. What impressed about Barking and Dagenham, said Kerslake, was that the authority ‘haven’t just thought through what they want to do, but how they are going to do it.’ The new organisation will marry private sector agility with close working inside the authority, and will be announcing a chief executive and managing director next month, expecting to go live in October.  The important thing though, Kerslake added, was to make places that people want to live in, and, as Rodwell said, are of high quality. ‘I will not allow anyone to spoil barking and Dagenham’, Rodwell said. ‘Let’s get London buzzing again.’

London’s towns were also the subject of another conference and ‘creating the right mix’, with GLA’s Fiona Fletcher-Smith suggesting that their future may rely on more ‘curation’. ‘It’s about how you actively manage town centres’, she said. Iceni consultant Richard Blakeway felt that more needed to be done to ‘embrace’ density, maximise development around train stations, but also importantly to not forget the night-time economy of London’s town centres too. Kingston’s Charlie Adan added that it was important to get a better level of, and more bottom-up, engagement with communities, and listen less to the vocal minority. Argent’s Robert Evans suggested that planning was perhaps not the answer but achieving distinct town centres was a long game of partnership working, but that it could be helped by a reappraisal of PTAL ratings in such a polycentric city. When it came to Crossrail 2, however, a factor that was a recurring theme across talks as something people need to get behind, Evans said we were perhaps in danger of being overoptimistic. ‘It’s hanging by a thread, frankly’, he said.

Finally, Newham is another area of major change, post-Olympics, with educational institutions such as Loughborough University and UCL key entrants, alongside Westfield’s next phases of investment. But it was a borough which concentrated first on job creation, said Sir Robin Wales, and the concept of resilience: economic, personal, and community. The Workplace recruitment firm for locals, it created led to the creation of 33,000 jobs, and a move to tackle skills next. ‘We have a vision’, he said. ‘You change people’s lives by working with us, as well as making money.’ Another sunny thought.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

New London Architecture curates the events programme for the London Stand at MIPIM

Day Two Toggle

Partnership, said Newham’s Sir Robin Wales, is the ‘suspension of mutual loathing, in order to get money out of central London’.

Whether one agrees with this view or not, expressed during MIPIM’s day two session on east London, partnership was certainly what MIPIM was all about this year, according to NLA chairman Peter Murray. 

At the morning’s first talk, Ealing’s Pat Hayes suggested that at least in his borough, partnerships were key to developing schemes, with the local authority planner acting as the conductor of proceedings in a ‘multifaceted’ approach.

‘We very much see our role as the sheepdog herding the various sheep into the development pens, to get schemes done’, he said.

Barton Willmore’s Iain Painting said partnership had figured as the key phrase in a number of opening speeches he had seen at this year’s MIPIM, while Primera Corporation’s Ruth Duston suggested that BIDs play a key part in that, and the latter-day development of the capital in places like Victoria, where the redevelopment of the station will be next on the list. Or at Baker Street, where the BID has helped move towards returning the street to two-way working. There are now 55 BIDs across London, generating some £30m per annum. ‘BIDs really are the conduit between the public and private sector’, said Duston.

Ealing’s vision, said the authority’s Lucy Taylor in another session on creating mixed communities, is to establishing a place where people want to live and work, albeit with Crossrail’s impact on journey times being a significant one when Ealing’s five stations go live in 2018/19, making it effectively a Zone One location. Countryside’s Richard Cherry suggested that Ealing is in a great place figuratively too: ‘They really are a make-it-happen group of people’, he said, pointing to progress on the company’s 3000 dwellings-Acton Gardens project. Greystar’s Greenford Green development, meanwhile, will be a case of ‘not doing something to the community but to be part of it for the long term’, said James Pargeter.

One of the men taking forward plans to create the kind of homes London needs is Berkeley’s Tony Pidgely, who in a one-on-one MIPIM interview said he believed that the Green Belt needs a review in which it should be looked at in a ‘proper, methodical way.’ But although Pidgely believed that the government would not be so ‘reckless’ as to allow the foreign workers who make up a large part of the construction industry to leave; the skills crisis may be averted by the professions working together; and that the industry  should share the lessons learned over modern methods of construction. Asked whether Ben Derbyshire’s idea for a housing expo in London was a good idea, Pidgley had a typically forthright approach. ‘Yes’, he said.

The next partnership under scrutiny was that over the development of the east, with eight boroughs in the frame and charged with taking forward the expansion of London. As has happened before, said Barking’s Darren Rodwell, it was the ‘working class’ of the area taking the capital forward, providing over 260,000 homes, potentiall tunnelling over the A13 and greeting a new train, direct from China – the ‘Far East, meeting the rising east’. Deputy mayor Jules Pipe said it was a fabulous example of eight boroughs coming together with a plan and aspiration. ‘All the stars are aligned’ he said. Pipe, who confirmed that there would be no more GLA money for the Garden Bridge, did say that other bridges and Crossrail 2 were ‘big bills’ that no-one had quite figured out how to pay for them – referring a question on road pricing to absent colleagues…

But it was local government that had come to the rescue, just as it had about the Dome, said Rodwell, and Stratford, which would have been the same ‘lemon’ without their work. Perhaps better placemaking could be another good saviour, although the term had taken on something of the greenwash that used to be afforded to sustainability, felt Battersea Power Station Development Company’s David Twohig.

Finally, the international perspective is arguably more important than ever in a post-Brexit world. In ‘London: design capital’ the GLA’s Fiona Fletcher-Smith launched new statistics proving the scale and reach of the capital’s architecture sector. ‘London is a magnet for architectural talent’, she said, with the city’s practices in demand all over the world. It is also a ‘city of city-makers’, she said, as a sector raising £1.7bn for the economy annually, and having grown by 7.6% since 2009. London has 24,300 architects and 4240 practices, with nine out of ten of those ‘micro practices’ of less than 10 staff. But the strength of architecture lay not just in its scale but in its depth and diversity, and, with 25% of London architects non-British EU citizens, that situation was perhaps under threat. Farrells architect Laura Mazzeo agreed, saying that we are in danger of losing its openness and attractiveness – some 50% of her practice’s staff are non-UK Europeans. Foreign staff bring a fresh take on things, she said. ‘they bring not just amazing skills but a different perspective.’ But ASF’s Geoff Baker said Brexit could represent a good opportunity for England, and China viewed London as part of Europe whatever happens. ‘They didn’t blink’, he said. ‘In fact they charged in because of the pound. They’ll continue to come, and to invest’.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

New London Architecture curates the events programme for the London Stand at MIPIM

Day Three Toggle

And so to the third and final day of a relatively upbeat MIPIM that attracted an estimated 24,000 delegates, wrestling with a rapidly changing future for development, certainly from a UK perspective.

First out of the blocks was Meridian Water, where Enfield leader Peter George described the lengths the council and Barratt has gone to get this major £6bn project underway from a position of ‘no interest’ just five years ago. Not only was there the crucial need to engage with Network Rail to get a new station built to ‘unlock’ the project but there was also the tricky matter of £100 million spent assembling land from five landowners, preparing the way for 23 hectares of contaminated, flood-prone land to be regenerated and over 1000 homes and 6000 jobs created. But it doesn’t end there: George said that there was an ambition to capitalise on Crossrail 2 with opportunities for partners and the creation of perhaps ‘four or five’ more Meridian Waters further up the Lea Valley in future. ‘All these positive efforts mace by the public sector have unlocked a brilliant developer opportunity’, he said. A tricky element, said Trowers & Hamlins’ Sara Bailey, had been in keeping the scheme flexible, and not ‘fettering’ the chance to make a place. But the project will seek to retain diversity, said Paul Karacusevic, through his practice Karacusevic Carson’s masterplan and the other architects working across the site.

Another project set to make a big difference to its location and the wider London economy is the London Cancer Hub, one of only four world class projects of its type, and being built in Sutton. ‘This is a globally important project for the country’, said deputy mayor Jules Pipe, pointing to the need for collaboration with other similar institutions across Europe and the US, and the possibility of a tram link if, as with projects like Crossrail 2, funds can be found.  The London Cancer Hub will potentially deliver at least two extra cancer drugs every five years and create more than 13,000 jobs, but also epitomizes the need to have a proper, realistic and sensible immigration policy, said Pipe.  

Pipe’s fellow deputy mayor James Murray figured in a talk on housing, where he said that build to rent will have a crucial part in housing delivery, while housing minister Gavin Barwell suggested that professional management will be a big part of that, while throwing his weight behind modular as one aid to upping delivery.

The City of London is a ‘palimpsest’ of centuries of development, said Central’s Pat Brown on London’s original co-working space, the Square Mile, with part of the secret of its resilience coming down to its architecture, said the City’s Annie Hampson, an attractor in its own terms. The City is looking to improve its cultural offer and its rooftops, and, said Eric Parry, 1 Undershaft will provide a scheme with some of the public facilities of precursors like the Rockefeller Centre. ‘It’s public below, public at the top’, he said. ‘There’s a lot of pragmatics in between, but that’s the story.’ Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ John McElgunn is another who enjoys the City, his practice having moved to the Leadenhall Building it designed, and the office now proving to be a big draw for talent. ‘You feel like you’re in the centre of the world’, said McElgunn. Perhaps, though, the City could work harder at its relationship to the river and take a leaf out of New York’s book in that respect, said Pat Brown. While Parry admired the way that the City has turned from a professional environment into a convivial one, and McElgunn suggested that the medieval street pattern was a big part of its charm, there was also a place for tall buildings, the subject of a debate around the London stand. Paul Finch attempted to debunk myths including that height does not equal density, but perhaps it was time to look again at views, he suggested, replacing corridors with ‘canyons’. KPF’s John Bushell said that there was a need for schemes to follow transportation hubs but also learn from successful buildings in other cities. And GL Hearn’s former GLA man Stewart Murray said moves to create an interactive 3D model remain high on the agenda at City Hall.

And so, with the sun still shining, MIPIM was in the can(nes) again for another year and for the NLA team on the London stand. See you next time.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

New London Architecture curates the events programme for the London Stand at MIPIM

The London Stand at MIPIM Toggle

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