The eternal questions over the state of the London real estate market at MIPIM have, this year, been somewhat overshadowed by the existential questions going on in real-time in Westminster over Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
Against this innately unsettled backdrop, London First’s programme of activity has had two inter-related themes. The first is how we tackle the long-standing competitive disadvantages that the city faces — in particular increasing investment in transport and housing; and the second: how city regions work together to improve their productivity.
Our housing lunch — sponsored by Terence O’Rourke, Peabody and Apex — heard Councillor Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham and Executive Member at London Councils for Housing and Planning, call for a new era of council-led housing delivery. This message chimes strongly with our view that London will only be able to get close to its target of 65,000 homes if the London Boroughs both work with the private sector to remove barriers to delivery and act as developers in their own right to build the non-market homes that London needs. Getting the different tiers of government working together — at a local, London and national level — was another theme that came across strongly.
This neatly linked to our London Government dinner, sponsored by Ashurst and Gerald Eve, where we heard both Darren and Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe make the case for more powers and resources for London Government to deliver for Londoners.
It is striking how clearly the same messages came through at our City Regions Lunch, sponsored by Arcadis. The Leader of Leeds Council, Councillor Judith Blake, and the Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority, Tim Bowles, represent different parties — but have a similar frustration with nationalGovernment’s failure to grip effective devolution to city government. This failure is all the more telling as national government is — inevitably — focused on the politics and practicalities of Brexit rather than getting on with delivering the services that people need; and where local government has such a strong track record. And it’s not just about money; as we heard at our opening drinks, the private sector is ready to bring finance, as well as expertise, to meeting our infrastructure challenges if government will create the right frameworks.
So while different parts of the country have different ambitions from the Government’s planned Industrial Strategy, better connectivity and more homes are two universal themes. And these are areas which do not require complicated negotiation with our European partners; just some political will at Westminster, accompanied by a devolution of resources, to let our city-regions and their business leaders get on with the job.
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