The weather in the south of France last month may have taken a turn for the worse but the shine certainly didn’t come off MIPIM, Europe’s largest property exhibition. Each year, the four-day event sees delegates from property sectors across the globe descend on the French resort to take advantage of the exhibition, conference and networking events. London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), making its fourth trip, was amongst them.
The London Pavilion was a hive of activity – a reflection of the large scale residential and transport infrastructure development projects taking place in the capital which continues to be the preferred destination for real estate investment.
LCCI has established itself as one of the key players on the London stage and, in partnership with 14 sponsors, its stand afforded prime position to meet and greet the thousands of visitors to the London Pavilion, in close proximity to the discussion forum where a number of panel sessions took place throughout the week.
As expected, London’s ongoing housing crisis, and what can be done to tackle it, formed a key strand of the discussions. One of the most eagerly anticipated events on the MIPIM agenda featured LCCI President, and Berkeley Group Chairman, Tony Pidgley CBE. He emphasised the need for affordability to remain at the heart of house-building in the face of rising housing costs and criticised the planning bureaucracy that hinders smaller developers from developing smaller sites – a key part of the solution to getting more homes built. On where to build in London, Pidgley highlighted LCCI’s agenda for the next Mayor of London, Towards a Greater London, and suggested that it was time for the industry to start looking at the potential use of some lower quality green belt land for residential development.
Another hot topic was the wave of construction projects underway to overhaul London’s overburdened transport network. LCCI chief executive Colin Stanbridge led a panel of experts from the Greater London Authority, Transport for London and London’s business community in a discussion about the role that investment in transport infrastructure can play to unlock home-building in and around London. Ahead of the Budget announcement, the panel discussed the importance of projects such as Crossrail 2 to enable the capital to keep pace with its rapidly growing population, and to create tens of thousands of new homes and jobs. The question that gave the panel most food for thought was how to pay for this infrastructure, with most agreeing that protracted negotiations with government around such schemes could act as a damaging deterrent to important foreign investment. At a reception hosted by Tony Pidgley, guests were joined by Sir Eddie Lister, London’s Deputy Mayor for Planning. Both applauded the London Land Commission, established last year following calls from LCCI, as a helpful tool for fast-tracking land release.
The second day of the exhibition coincided with the Budget announcement back in London and much of the discussion focused on what the property sector hoped to hear from the Chancellor at the dispatch box. While the news that the government had committed £80 million funding for Crossrail 2 was welcomed inside the London Pavilion, the continued focus on promoting homes to own, evidenced by the new £1 billion fund for Starter Homes, was a cause for concern in some parts if it meant neglect of London’s private rented sector (PRS) – a crucial element of the housing mix.
The significance of the private rented sector was a topic high on the agenda at MIPIM. Mark Collins, chairman of residential at CBRE, took part in a third discussion forum in his capacity as the deputy chair of the LCCI’s property and construction committee. In conversation with Ric Blakeway, Deputy Mayor for housing and land, Collins highlighted the benefits of PRS as a way of getting people into homes more quickly than by building homes to own, and asked the panel whether developers should be obliged to include a quota of affordable homes to rent in the future – an initiative advocated by LCCI.
By the end of the week, it was clear that London remains amongst the most attractive destinations for businesses looking to invest in property. Nonetheless, the London property and construction industry is all too aware of the challenges facing the capital over the coming years – not the least of which being a housing market struggling to keep pace with a rapidly growing population. Bringing together key players from across the industry is central to finding a long term solution, which is why MIPIM continues to be the number one stop for the property world year after year.
Emily Follis, Policy Manager LCCI