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Duncan Hopwood

Building a better London

November 8, 2016

London has a bright future with its formidable business community, culture, sport and nightlife.

Angus Dodd, chief executive of Quintain, delivers an upbeat forecast for the capital in post Brexit Britain. He heads up the organisation that is delivering regeneration on a grand scale at Wembley Park with 1,000 homes built and 4,850 to come around the national stadium. Aimed at a more prosperous resident than the norm for Brent – one of the poorest boroughs in London – he is confident demand for homes will remain intense despite uncertainty. Brexit is only one incarnation of this. As the breakfast presentation draws to a close, a few New England villagers are the first Americans to cast their votes in the Trump v Clinton Presidential race. There are elections on the way in France and Germany, as well as a referendum on the Italian constitution in the offing.

Switching back to Brexit, there remains uncertainty about what Brexit means. “We are in the eye of the storm, and we need to move out of it.” International investment in real estate, services and other parts of the economy is vital, so Angus likes the London Mayor’s hashtag #LondonIsOpen.

Placemaking

Quintain wants to contribute to building a better London. His fear is that they will not deliver this aim, that Wembley Park will be commercially successful but have no longevity. After all, many new places that were unveiled in the 1960s and afterwards with a rosy future have turned into sink estates. Angus reads a quote from a former Thamesmead resident. “I grew up on Thamesmead as a child it was great because of the open spaces but as a teenager it became a hell hole due to its dark passages where gangs congregated.”

Quintain’s vision for Wembley Park in 2024 is the opposite, a flourishing community of nearly 20,000 people living in a place that stands the test of time. The 85-acre site includes Wembley Arena and 268,000 sq ft of retail space with 1 million sq ft more to come, but Quintain has also invested in the spaces between, not imposing a lifestyle on residents but allowing the community room to grow its own networks and activities. “Not just student flats for grown-ups.”

The power of regeneration is clear in Wembley and in places such as Kings Cross and Nine Elms. Yet there remains a huge housing shortage in London with 10 million people forecast to be living here by 2023. “Brexit is not going to change that.”

Partnerships

How do you deliver on place-making and regeneration? The answer is partnerships, according to Angus, including with the local community, but they do not always get it right. It is the week after Bonfire Night, and they have sponsored a spectacular firework display for residents which has resulted in glowing comments on Twitter, which he monitors via a daily digest. On other days, it is painful to read, as in the period after Pizza-gate, a pizza festival that ran out of pizza. In disadvantaged Brent, the most ethnically diverse of the London boroughs, engagement with local people means running events that appeal to the whole community, not just the relatively wealthy people who can afford to live on the site.

Good relations are also crucial with local and central government (Brent council has a civic centre on the site), TfL and the FA, who own the stadium.

Alongside this, Quintain is forging partnerships with the building, design and investment communities and working with them to achieve its objectives.

Hopwood PR’s work on Green Street in the Meadows brought together all these strands, supporting our developer client to deliver an eco-homes scheme that is both transformational and part of the neighbourhood (and commercially successful).

PRS is the future

Angus regrets that the UK relies almost entirely on the private sector for housing because property developers need to make a profit but building homes to sell doesn’t solve the housing problem. There is a clear choice as he sees it between PRS or forcing millennials out of London. He points out it would take a very frugal person eight years on a typical London salary to amass the £80,000 deposit needed for an average London home. By contrast, a couple could move in to an upmarket home on Wembley Park (15 minutes from where we are in CBRE’s W1 headquarters) for £20,000 a year, £10k each. “I’m convinced this is the future.”

Five a day

Mark Collins, Chairman of Residential at CBRE, introduces Angus by way of listing five of the London Chamber’s 20 key points on which it is lobbying the Mayor.

  1. More affordable homes to rent in all new developments (the Chamber is cautious about government prioritising home ownership because of the effect that would have on the Build to Rent sector (B2R).
  2. Support SME builders
  3. Bring forward availability of small plots of land
  4. Make the most of space (a call for release of ‘green belt’ land for development that the Mayor has signalled he won’t countenance)
  5. Ensuring London has the skills it needs (more devolution to the capital so it has power to manage its own future)

He highlights concern among businesses about EU nationals already working here and the risk that post-Brexit immigration policy might affect their status and stop businesses in London importing the best international talent. Failure to invest in UK construction training 15 years ago has led to a chronic shortage of UK skilled labour. This can be addressed over the next five years (Hopwood PR client DTL has been pressing and putting forward ideas for this with the help of some creative media relations from us) but there will be a lag time. Meanwhile, 80 per cent of construction workers in London are foreign compared with 50 per cent nationally.