The spectre of Brexit hung over large parts of the conference programme on the first day of this year’s MIPIM UK at Olympia.
The event, held at London’s Olympia, included a full suite of conference talks put together by the NLA dealing on issues from the London economy, residential investment, placemaking and development in the west of the capital.
First up was a session on Driven by Knowledge: The London Economy, in which LSE London director Tony Travers said we are living through a period of ‘unparalleled uncertainty’ that will be test of an economy that has nevertheless held up amazingly well thus far. But Brexit has also ‘squeezed all the life out of the rest of UK government’ and remains challenging particularly to London’s ability to access talent from across the world.
That ongoing access to a labour force is a particular concern, said Lucy Owen, interim executive director of development, enterprise and environment at GLA, who added that the knowledge economy remains a key sector with the provision of good, affordable workspace an important foundation.
Cushman & Wakefield associate director Kat Hanna said knowledge quarters and the spaces in which innovation takes place have changed to become an increasingly urban phenomenon, with more of an emphasis on public realm. Get the basic infrastructure right – digital and transport, she advised the audience.
Chairman of the planning and transportation committee at the City of London Corporation Chris Hayward said London was a strong base for the knowledge economy, with four of the top 40 of the word’s universities, and higher education an increasingly important part of the City of London. But Brexit meant that London is in danger of losing its ‘most precious resource – people’, he said. In a discussion session that included views on density and tall buildings, Hayward added that the Square Mile is looking to extend its eastern cluster of towers. ‘All our forecasts say that the city is going to need them’.
Travers added during questions that more prominence needed to be given to the further education sector as a help to getting people on the jobs ladder, London’s roads need to be ‘radically improved’ and, added Hayward, the city more generally needs to stop designing to cater for more cars.
The second session looked at the future for residential investment in the capital, chairman Jonny Popper of the London Communications Agency highlighting an £8.6bn gap according to one report and a 34% decline in investment in 2017 from the year before.
But, said Yolande Barnes of the Bartlett Real Estate Institute, there is a global trend: the end of the yield shift and a change in the notion of investment. ‘There is a global search for income now’, she said.
Residential development needs change and diversity, said Jamie Ratcliff, assistant director of Housing at GLA, with a focus on small sites, but to Barnes it was a case of adding to the arsenal of delivering housing, not detracting from it. One way was to attempt to initiate widespread change and allow the incentivisation of homeowners in the suburbs – part of the ‘Superbia’ plan. ‘That needs a complete change of mindset’ but could present homeowners up to £200,000 if they collaborated with neighbours, she added, while Marion Baeli suggested this could also help with environmental goals in line with new research on climate change.
Brexit reared its head here again, Baeili revealing that her practice PDP London has now set up an office in Madrid, Ratcliff pointing to three areas of concern: labour, supply of materials and macro-economic issues.
Placemaking, said conference chair Leanne Tritton of ING, is a buzzword for our age, perhaps having emerged only in the last three-five years. But how are central London landowners shaping great places that are sustainable in the long-term? The Royal Docks’ approach is through its status as London’s only Enterprise Zone allowing it to make £300m for investment over five years, said Paul Creed, head of development and placemaking at GLA. Part of the strategy is to look to skills and employment in the area along with the creation of more ‘activity’ in the docks.
At Paddington, said head of Paddington Central at British Land Tim Heddon, the key had been in investing heavily in the public realm and turning a ‘grey, sterile business park-like location’ into one where people want to go, stay, eat and drink – and even on the weekends. ‘We spent a lot of time trying to get people out of their offices’, he said. Be First managing director Pat Hayes said that the challenge in Barking is to revitalise a place with affordable housing for everybody. ‘I hate the term placemaking’, he said. ‘It’s a jargonistic term we all wheel out’. The City, meanwhile, has also been paying attention to public realm, especially in the light of Crossrail adding 1.5 million more people to the 45 minute travel time to the Square Mile. Assistant director, City of London Simon Glynn said it has progressed plans such as the Cultural Mile – a 10-15 year programme to put culture first, is improving its appeal for businesses seeking agile working with an ‘expanded workplace’ in the urban realm and aims to harness technology and smart data to improve placemaking in its broadest sense.
Finally, the spotlight was swung onto the west of the capital, with the chairman of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation Liz Peace extolling the virtues of this Opportunity Area. The first development will be in the Old Oak Northern section, with plans for a total of 10,000 homes and infrastructure including new bridges, an underpass and energy centre. ‘We’re about building place, not development for development sake’, she said. Perhaps, she added later, London could also create an International Convention Centre near to the new HS2 station. Ealing Council’s leader Cllr Julian Bell said he wanted to provide an ‘unashamed plug’ for the borough, based on its fantastic connectivity its ‘trump card’ with Crossrail stations to come. Andrew Dakers, chief executive of West London Business agreed that those connections will be key to the area – which contributes £73 billion to the economy making strides forward. ‘West London is probably one of the world’s best-connected places’, he said.
The final session of the day involved a modular London Speed presentation featuring speakers including WSP head of discipline, structures Jane Richards and Greystar Europe senior director James Pargeter, adding to the NLA’s season of discussions on the role of factory-made homes as a way to deliver the homes London needs.
Tomorrow’s sessions include topics such as Good Growth, London’s Towns, Future Workplace, Capturing Value from Transport Infrastructure and, to counter the west’s turn in the spotlight today, opportunities in the east.