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An Architects Guide to the London Real Estate Forum 2017

I attended the London Real Estate Forum this year and was impressed by the balance of input from both the Public and Private sector in a conference and exhibition set over two days in the salubrious surroundings of Mayfair’s Berkeley Square.

The public and private camps were split into two large marquees, separated by a café / bar / breakout space set under the tress in the Northern half of the square. The Local Authorities were generally concentrated in the ‘Opportunity London’ marquee with the London Boroughs of Waltham Forest, Barnet, Croydon, Ealing, Haringey & Kingston sitting side by side with Housing Associations such as Swan with their ‘NU Living’ brand, and Peabody presenting their ambitious masterplan for Thamesmead.

The ‘Central London Exhibition Hall’ was full of hugely impressive large-scale models of central London and stands by generally private sector developers such as Land Securities, The Canary Wharf Group, Ballymore, Helical, Quintain and central London Boroughs such as Westminster. Leading off from the Central London area were three conference rooms that held regular talks, presentations and panel discussions on a variety of topics.

The first day kicked-off with the Financial Times Keynote address, and the main subject in question was the London Economy. Fiona Fletcher Smith of the GLA, Jo Negrini (head of LB Croydon) and John Mulryan of the Ballymore Group grappled with this large and amorphous topic off the back of a lacklustre Conservative campaign and in advance of imminent Brexit negotiations and so predictions formed a fairly low resolution view due to the swirling macro-economic climate. However Chris Giles of the Financial Times offered an excellent summary by presenting a Bank of England slide that showed a growth range in the economy of minus 2 to plus 5%, thereby allowing themselves a very chunky margin of error of 7%. In response to this Chris Giles said ‘in other words, no one has any idea and if they say they do they are lying’!

As the conference progressed many discussions were held including; Housing Policy debates, International Dialogues on Berlin, Hong Kong & New York, area specific features on Euston, Shoreditch and Canary Wharf followed by Borough wide panel discussions on Croydon, East London and Haringey.

 

The second day begun with a Mayors address heavily overshadowed by the tragic events that had unfolded overnight at the Grenfell Tower. Following a sobering reflection on this Jules Pipe the Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills pressed on with the discussions and put forward some strong pro London Independence statements, saying that Government policy has “absolutely paralysed” London’s ability to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population.

Pipe went on to say that, the underinvestment in infrastructure had affected London significantly, “with project approvals contingent on the decisions of others, not on those who have been elected to run London,” he said.

“There is a £175bn gap between what the transport and affordable housing sectors alone will need and what they will receive,” he said. Pipe criticised the government for not including Crossrail 2, which he called an “absolutely transformative scheme”, in its manifesto. The project, he said, would help deliver an estimated 200,000 homes and jobs to the capital, which was growing by 70,000 residents every year.

Katy Warrick, head of London residential development research at Savills, followed Pipe’s keynote address, arguing that while London has delivered an increasing number of homes, it is still falling short of demand, particularly outside of the central London Boroughs.

London delivered 41,000 new homes last year – nearly meeting the government’s target of 42,000 – according to Savills research. That number is likely to rise to 46,000 this year.

Warrick said: “We need to think about where Londoners can afford to rent and buy. We need to open up new parts of London.” Warrick said: “That’s great. It’s exceeded the government’s target, but it’s still way short of what we need to be building to really affect the affordability of homes for Londoners.”

She added that not only is this failing to meet the estimated demand for 64,000 homes a year in London, a fall in starts means that the city will deliver 35,000 homes annually by 2021. Further problems described were the oversupply at the upper end of the market and large shortfalls in social and affordable housing.

Debates were lively and engaging with questions thrown to the floor at the end of every session. Conclusions were seldom clear during the event, but one thing that I did take away was that opportunities to drive up housing numbers significantly, especially in the affordable, social rented and shared ownership sectors, will only be found in significant numbers in the outer London Boroughs. However, without significant investment in infrastructure projects, like Crossrail 2 for example, the outer Boroughs just will not attract the investment to be able to deliver these ambitious masterplans. Estimates were put forward of £1.4tn of investment being needed for infrastructure investments and unless government grants are forthcoming then the growth needed to address the crisis looks unlikely.

Unit One Architects are working with the Sanctuary Group in a key North London borough on a series of infill projects that looks at concentrating on the gaps and spaces between housing estate blocks and on underused brownfield land. So whilst the real volumes of new housing may be dependent on Infrastructure investment in the outer London Boroughs this does still leave other opportunities available to us all if we are creative. All key stakeholders and professionals need to work together in order to utilise the harder, smaller back-land and infill sites that can make use of existing infrastructure in the more central London Boroughs.

If you are interested to read further about our infill projects, please click this link to our Infills blog for more information.

 

Christian Pinchin Unit One Architects