London’s greatest success factor is its ability to attract and retain talent, both nationally and internationally. This will be especially true once we leave the EU. Success will rest heavily on urban neighbourhoods with rich histories that offer homes to people of mixed incomes, backgrounds and life stages; as well as commercial districts that host new jobs and opportunities for all. In short, districts with the best public spaces and amenities offering a better quality of life.
It’s profoundly difficult to create and manage such places in the capital, whose growth is putting enormous pressures on its infrastructure, its communities and its quality of life. So meeting the challenge will require closer and more creative collaboration between government and the real estate industry. But bold public sector leadership is the starting point for success.
We need policies that create great places. And we need leadership from the public sector that comes with a compelling vision for growth and an honest depiction of the trade-offs inherent in delivering it.
Our perspective on that proposition comes with a long-term view. The origins of our property business are in the land in London that came into the family in 1677. Today, we’re a British, privately-owned property business that is international and diversified, active in 60 cities in 10 countries. In the UK we have roles as landlord, master-developer, builder, asset manager and public sector partner: in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Southampton, Oxford, Cambridge; on our London estate in Mayfair & Belgravia; and in Bermondsey, where we want to create a new urban neighbourhood with 1,300 new homes for mid-market rent.
And at the heart of a global city, Mayfair & Belgravia are evolving. We have a 20 year vision to transform our London estate and tackle the pressures facing the capital. With London's rapid growth, we want the estate to be more active, more open and more integrated, with better streets, greener spaces and enterprising places that appeal to the many.
We know there is very little we can deliver alone. We’re in the hands of policy and decision makers, be it local planning authorities, the Mayor or the regulators. And above all, we’re in the hands of public opinion.
The truth is, like many property companies, we have failed to tell our story in clear enough ways. We have historically failed to describe development that is valuable both in financial terms and to society. So we need consistently and openly to explain our purpose and our point of view. We need consistently and openly to set a direction of travel, a long-term view, and try to bring others along with us.
We need to describe the platforms we create for businesses and people to thrive, and that these places are not just ours, that they’re also owned by those who use them. And we need to be tested by public opinion. We have a reputational and commercial imperative to do so.
The context of course is the fundamental deterioration of public trust in the planning process and the intentions of the real estate industry. Creating great places is very complex.
Clearly we need developers to make profits and their developments to deliver social benefit. Achieving both requires trade-offs to be made. Critically, we need a conversation that allows those trade-offs to be explored and addressed. At the moment we have a stand off between communities, developers and the public sector that prevents this.
We know for example that we need more homes, particularly in the capital, and that it will be a challenge. Local councils face budget cuts and caps on their ability to borrow to deliver homes. Land is scarce. Private developers are willing to invest, but only at a rate of return that justifies the risks they bear.
There is no single solution to the housing shortage and the complexity makes simple assertions attractive, when actually we need pragmatism, honesty and creativity from all sides. So we’ll need public sector leadership to cut through that debate, as well as private sector investment at scale.
We’re not alone in seeing our ability to create great places eroded by a poor quality public narrative. So we’ll have to explain our contribution to society and individual communities more clearly, in a broad coalition, to overcome the quandary facing the real estate sector.
Private developers are captured by the planning system, and that system, which is nationalised but poorly understood by the public, has in turn blurred accountability for great places.
So what’s the solution? I believe we have an enormous, positive opportunity to recast the approach to the creation and management of great places. With a bold public sector vision for growth that extends opportunities to all, backed by good placemaking policy and an honest discussion of the trade-offs, we stand ready to play our part.
This article was originally published on the Grosvenor website here.
Portfolio Director, Grosvenor