Postcard from MIPIM - Thursday

Thursday 17 March 2016

The Royal Docks, build to rent, PRS, the Northern Powerhouse and tall buildings were all on the agenda as London’s programme of events at MIPIM rolled into a mercifully drier last day.

Newham is a pro-business council that wants to work with developers, not against them, said Councillor Ken Clark, and the world has woken up to the ‘incredible economic potential of the area’ of the Royal Docks. But with the highest birth rates in the country the authority has to keep up with its growth through improving its infrastructure for its residents, such as a new Thames crossing. Things take time, however – the first discussions about a new bridge at Gallions’ Reach were had as far back as 1943.

Two of the projects which will make a considerable difference to the area are the Silvertown scheme, with Millennium Mills at its heart, and ABP London’s plan to create a new business district. The Silvertown Partnership’s Simon Webster said the 62 acre scheme is now in delivery mode, with small to medium size workspace complementing ABP’s plan. ‘There is no way that it won’t be the heart for the future of London’, said ABP’s Neil Robinson. ‘The success of the Royal Docks is inevitable.’

The time is also right in London for a new generation of Build to Rent and PRS residential. That was the key message emerging from a session on the subject headlined by outgoing deputy mayor Richard Blakeway, who emphasized policy backing for the area on the back of a response from consumers. ‘Build to rent offers something different’, he said. While Canary Wharf Group’s Brian De’Ath stressed PRS and build to rent’s importance to the estate – ‘we see it as hugely complementary to what we already have’, M&G Real Estate’s Alex Greaves mourned Chancellor George Osbourne’s lack of support via the Budget on stamp duty and other issues. But there had been a significant change in the growth of interest in the subject, said Blakeway. ‘That momentum is unstoppable.’  

A session on the Northern Powerhouse and its relationship to the capital was an unusual sight, with three knights of the realm – Sir Howard Bernstein, Sir Eddie Lister, and Sir Michael Bear on the panel. What was the collective term, asked chairman Damian Wild? Surely a roundtable, came a muttering from the audience behind this correspondent.

Bear said that there was a great deal of appetite for projects outside of London from the international investment community. ‘I think we’re in for a golden era of investment in other parts of England’, he said. And although there had been a priod of continued support via successive statements from government, it could not happen without the transport side of the equation, said Manchester’s Howard Bernstein. Actually, though, it was a mutual thing, said London’s Eddie Lister. ‘We need each other like we’ve never needed each other before’, he said.

Finally at this year’s MIPIM, there was time for a knock-about session around the London model debating the finer points both pro- and anti- tall buildings as they affect the capital. With multiple senior contributors from the industry including NLA chairman Peter Murray and the GLA’s Stewart Murray, the debate covered density, location, and design, even individual buildings like the Walkie Talkie being cited by people such as Bilfinger GVA’s Gerry Hughes as an inelegant addition to the skyline. In the end, though, perhaps the answer to the subject – if there could ever be one – was as simple as that proposed by Paul Finch. ‘The only question is: ‘are they any good?’, he said.


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