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Building a better London

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.

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Blog Property PR

The power of words in property PR

Can having a way with words give property organisations the power to make big things happen, and what does physics have to do with public relations?

Scientists knew about black holes before they were called black holes but it wasn’t until the term was coined that the phenomenon captured the public imagination. A man known for his way with words, physicist John Wheeler is credited with inventing the label in 1967 (he also came up with ‘space time’), long enough ago for two generations of sci-fi authors and screenwriters to be in his debt.

property PR
Credits: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Physics and public relations are not as distant disciplines as one might think, as I wrote in my blog The Arecibo Effect: Seven PR Lessons from the Greatest Communication Never Made.

Dramatic words 

Compelling and descriptive labels can have a powerful effect in other sectors, even B2B. At a property industry breakfast, the London Chamber chief exec Colin Stanbridge reminds us of their register of derelict land in the capital, which they cleverly christened The Domesday Book of Brownfield Sites. That initiative was influential enough to make then London Mayor Boris Johnson set up the less-imaginatively-titled London Land Commission. It shows the power of words to make things happen.

Big, complex ideas need smart wordsmiths 

Fast forward to October 2016, and the Chamber is calling on the Mayor and government to encourage more SME developers to tackle London’s housing shortage. PRS is key to this. It also wants London to have a place at the table in EU talks to safeguard the capital’s ability to import international talent post the Leave vote, and has published a Brexit manifesto. Colin Stanbridge urges politicians to avoid obsessing about politically-fascinating EUU negotiations to the exclusion of all else and to remember to run the country and invest in infrastructure projects such as Crossrail. Any one of those points would be more powerful with a black hole-style key word or phrase.

What next for residential in London?

Don O’Sullivan, MD of Galliard, a sizeable developer mainly focused on London, tells us there is a 50 per cent under supply of homes in London and what is needed is more land released, which he  thinks developers would gear up to build on if it happened over five years or so.

He reckons the biggest obstacle to building homes in London is planning – 33 independent boroughs as nests of NIMBY-ism – followed by a tax on developers in the form of Section 106, land prices and political factors such as opposition to foreign investors. Angry about Brexit and the potential to make the skills crisis event worse, he thinks the vote will deter foreign investment while the exchange rate collapse makes materials more pricey.

Lateral thinking and partnership working

He thinks foreign investment restrictions won’t materialise in London while his firm’s response to land shortages has been to focus on converting offices to residential, which by taking office space out of circulation has unintentionally pumped up commercial rents.

A last word: The property world, as I constantly see at networking events like these, depends on its networks to get things done, and Don O’Sullivan’s firm is no different. It has no less than 100 joint venture partners.

 

 

 

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POST BREXIT: WHY LOCAL AUTHORITIES NEED TO STEP UP ON INWARD INVESTMENT

From multicultural Leicester to cosmopolitan London this morning where the latest Capital 500 survey of business confidence was unveiled. The mood is angry.

In the wake of England’s humiliating exit from the Euro 2016 football championships, the economic goalposts have been moved, and no-one knows where.

What we do know, as Vicky Pryce from the Centre for Economics and Business Research put it, is that uncertainty is bad news for foreign direct investment. In a post-Brexit Britain, local authorities, LEPs and other organisations with a role to play in attracting investors to the UK are going to have to work harder. And for those that do, there could be rewards.

The survey, taken before the referendum, showed business confidence in the capital at its lowest ebb since the survey began in 2014.

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber which published the report, said: “Government must move quickly to maintain confidence and minimise economic uncertainty.”

But that seems unlikely to happen in the current political vacuum. All the more reason for local authorities and everyone with a stake in regeneration to step up to the penalty spot in our hour of need. One reason to make plans to market local areas now is that the funding scenario is likely to change when the Government gets its act together and puts cash behind a concerted effort to avert an exodus of investors and international businesses. Organisations with effective marketing communications and PR plans built on strong inward investment strategies – such as our client Melton Borough Council’s Food Enterprise Zone – ought to be be well placed to gain funding from any new Government initiatives as well as winning a share of the likely boosted coffers in existing ones.

As firms ponder their future, business support organisations have an opportunity to show leadership and remind their catchment areas of the portfolios of help available. There is a communications job to be done right now to explain how they can help businesses to adapt to change, and there is an urgent requirement to develop arguments for overseas investment in local areas – building a compelling case for local areas that can survive doubts about the future of Britain outside the EU. It is important for organisations to act now to provide certainty and confidence. Delaying campaigns and putting decisions on hold will make things worse. Waiting for the Government and the EU to come to a settlement will only create a vacuum of uncertainty.

What can local areas learn from the reaction of London’s economic powerhouse? Colin Stanbridge again: “As Ministers now contemplate the UK’s future outside the EU, London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, needs to be involved in that planning – to help harness the resources necessary to sustain long-term economic growth.

“Government must look to maintain the capital’s position as world-leading place to do business. That means having the pull factors that will attract global companies to invest and locate in London whether that is around business environment, strategic infrastructure or skilled staff. We need to turn the result of the referendum into a time of opportunity for Britain.”

Vicky Pryce added: “The results of the survey certainly chime with what we have seen for the economy as a whole. The vote to leave in the referendum unsettled markets. Although a lower sterling may be good for exports it also raises manufacturers’ costs and the prices of consumer goods. There is no clarity on what trade deal may be agreed and whether tariffs may be imposed on UK exports. Or whether Scotland remains part of the UK in the longer term. Uncertainty is bad news for growth and for FDI, and the political vacuum created by the Prime Minister’s resignation adds to this. More monetary and fiscal support to the economy will be essential.”