LREF 2023: How to add value in London’s built environment.
The London Real Estate Forum (LREF) is a key date in the property calendar and at last week’s gathering at the Barbican there was a collective sense of ‘let’s do business’ pushing forward development despite the headwinds.
This year the overarching theme was value, and what it stands for in conversations around the future of London. Whether it’s the value of safe spaces for women that can be built in at planning stage, or a shift in how we perceive social value to be transformational, not transactional. There was insight on the value of meanwhile space – in both the immediate benefits it can bring to otherwise derelict spaces, to the lessons that it provides in how an area can best serve the communities living within and around it.
And something we’re passionate about at LCA; the value of language, and questions around how to improve the literacy of local communities for housing delivery. The need to move away from the ‘big headlines and then silence’ from developers, to be an ongoing discussion for everyone, that gives local communities ownership and those without a home a voice. The importance of language and how we talk about property development and engage with communities on more niche topics of circular economy, life sciences or retrofit is going to be a major driver in equitable development moving forward.
As the value of an easy commute is ever greater, discussions on London quickly turn to transport and infrastructure. At the time of the event, the future of HS2 hung in the balance and there was dialogue around the realities of infrastructure delivery in the UK. The success of the Elizabeth Line (yes naysayers it might have been late and expensive) in part due to it being funded by London businesses that in turn made it harder to simply wipe off the books and cancel. The question of how we fund infrastructure in the UK, and attract inward capital investment if projects can be pulled, was unsurprisingly raised more than once. As an industry we need to push for clear messaging on this, and a single voice for London is perhaps in sight for the first time with Opportunity London. Opportunity London now has a new CEO in place to lead the public-private partnership, which for the first time has united all tiers of London Government of all political colours with business to champion investment into London.
I recently returned from a family holiday to New Zealand for my brother’s wedding. Flying into Heathrow it took us two hours to clear passport control - small children, only two border police and a snaking queue of jet lagged families helps to focus the mind on what things in life we value most. I’m often talking about liveable cities, the best cities in the world, how to make these best cities better. Sleep deprived in Heathrow my mind wandered to the quiet one-horse towns of South Island, with their clean streets and even cleaner rivers. Where the simple things are done well - the roads, the broadband speed and the coffee. I thought maybe the tech barons are onto something and the most liveable cities are not cities at all, and in fact a ‘batch’ in the back of beyond is where we all want to be.
But LREF reminded me of why I choose to work in London in a job that’s all about talking about why people from around the world also want to be in London. There is nowhere like it. The vibrancy, the pioneering spirit. The mix of old and new – where many a-hundred-year-old building stands next to a taco food truck, banking institutions next to a gallery pop up. LREF captures this dynamism, and the Barbican gives an edge that almost appears to intentionally reflect the changing face of property to something more dynamic, more demanding, more diverse, than the reputation the sector once had.
Like everyone at LREF, I’m fond of London. It can’t be replicated, and it is this part that makes it special. As a city however we need to be better at working for everyone – we are in a housing crisis, affordability is not a reality for many Londoners, and there are other headwinds - the economic backdrop, the environmental agenda, the impending elections than mean our only certainty in the next 18 months is uncertainty. We can’t afford to take these lightly but as a collective at LREF, the spirit for change is there. Because what London does best is resilience, and when we are at our most resilient, we are our most innovative.
I’m not ready for the kiwi bunker yet.