By Paul Coleman
Property talk vibrates London’s air.
Indeed, Londoners can seem to be constantly on duty servants of a property market god. This omnipotent real estate deity is a harbinger of fast and vast looming transformations of London – many of them warmly heralded by property world delegates at the third annual London Real Estate Forum held in gilded Mayfair (10-11 June 2015). Developers, estate agents, architects, urban designers, local politicians, planners and regeneration experts number amongst the congregation gathered in a marquee ‘village’ on the north side of Berkeley Square.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson supports LREF 2015. The event is hosted by the City of Westminster, media ‘partnered’ by the Financial Times – and dark-suited security guards patrol its perimeter.
Yet, despite their faith, none of these worshippers really know exactly where this market deity will lead them and London. That’s why they each faithfully spend up to £795 from their company coffers to look for clues and insights at LREF 2015. If it achieves anything, the London Real Estate Forum acts as a useful barometer of how property-driven transformations continue to rattle many of the capital’s traditional neighbourhoods and shake up long-established family and social networks. LREF shows that housing is still primarily valued as a commodity for profitable speculation rather than as infrastructure for a more direct and inclusive form of regeneration that all Londoners can genuinely afford.
Another strong signal from LREF is that market conditions threaten old London dichotomies with extinction over the next decade or so; central London and the suburbs, North versus South London, rich prime central areas and deprived inner city wards. Socio-economic inequalities might be swept under the property market’s fabric – albeit chiefly due to rising prices and rents sweeping Londoners on average and lower incomes out of their London.
Looking at LREF’s models and images, it’s clear too that London is coming up in the world – literally. To achieve ‘super-density’ – and maybe even Shanghai and Hong Kong ‘hyper-density’, London’s skyline is set to become a forest of towers, both residential and commercial.
At the first LREF in 2013, delegates chuntered much about the expansion of London’s ‘prime central’ property market from Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea, to post-2012 Olympic hotspots such as Stratford, Old Street and Shoreditch. They regarded outlying London areas, such as Croydon and Tottenham, as faint investment hopes.
At LREF 2015, there’s not much talk of ‘prime central’. Real estate investment potential gathers everywhere, including places like Croydon, Tottenham, Southall and Woolwich. LREF reveals that Far Eastern investors and investors are scoping outlying areas such as Tottenham, Croydon, Southall and Woolwich – and they can be seen introducing themselves to local politicians.
In the next five years or so, London’s socio-economic inequalities might be swept under the property market’s fabric – albeit chiefly due to rising prices and rents sweeping Londoners on average and lower incomes out of their London.
Looking at LREF’s models and images, it’s clear too that London is coming up in the world – literally. To achieve ‘super-density’ – and maybe even Shanghai and Hong Kong ‘hyper-density’ – London’s skyline is set to become a forest of towers, both residential and commercial.
With interest rates sealed low – and the world’s political economy in turmoil – the planet’s elites see London ‘real estate’ as a safe haven and even a good long-term bet for their wealth.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson says: “I am delighted to support the London Real Estate Forum, where investors can find just what our great city has to offer.”
But investors seem thin on the ground at LREF 2015. Deals are not sealed at LREF, according to one delegate, a property lawyer. “Investors never do business at an event like this,” she says. “But a few do come and listen to what’s being said in the briefings and discretely introduce themselves to developers and politicians during the coffee breaks and over drinks at receptions.” For instance, after the ‘Opportunity London’ session that features Old Oak Common, Park Royal and Tottenham, developers from the Far East introduce themselves to local politicians.
Yet LREF delegates spend most of their time pouring over models and images of super-density, developer-led housing regeneration schemes across London’s 33 boroughs. These projects could expand the capital’s population – that’s if property market conditions allow people to buy and rent these new homes.
And, they chorus faith that major new rail infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail, High Speed 2 and Crossrail 2, will shrink journey times across London, expand new property investment and bring new people to London.
London’s population is anticipated to rise from 8.3 million to 11m by 2050.“London is ripe with exciting opportunities,” says London Mayor Boris Johnson. “Entire new neighbourhoods are emerging around a transport system fit for the 21st Century.”
“The hub of hubs is coming to Old Oak Common,” says Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Old Oak & Park Royal Mayoral Development Corporation, describing the forthcoming co-terminus of High Speed 2 and Crossrail.
“We want to completely reshape Tottenham Hale,” says Haringey councillor Alan Strickland. But does Haringey want to also reshape the rest of Tottenham and entire east of the borough?
Savills estate agency chief Dominic Grace enthuses: “Everywhere in London is an opportunity – and needs to be exploited.”
But letting an unfettered property market loose on London isn’t to everyone’s liking. Westminster City Council planning director John Walker briefs delegates that the number of recent office-to-homes conversions is excessive – and no new applications from developers and investors will be considered after 1 September. It’s hardly social engineering but a thoughtful attempt to balance the creation of new homes with new jobs and businesses.
For the first time in LREF’s short history, discordant echoes sound from its perimeter. Delegates run a polite but determined gauntlet in the shape of a small but determined band protesting against the presence at LREF 2015 of elected councillors and appointed officers from 13 local authorities.
Local authorities try to use LREF 2015 to both formally and informally alert developers and investors to development opportunities within their borough – similar to the way they seek to use the annual MIPIM real estate jamboree held at Cannes on the south of France. Elected local councillors and local authority regeneration and planning officers invited to speak at LREF 2015 include:
- Councillor Robert Davis, (Westminster City Council)
- Cllr Daniel Astaire, (Westminster)
- Cllr Ravi Govindia, (Wandsworth)
- Cllr Alan Strickland, (Haringey)
- Ed Watson, (Camden)
- Stephen Platts, (Southwark)
- Pat Hayes, (Ealing)
- Stephen McDonald, (Barnet).
“Londoners will be priced out if these plans go ahead, as really affordable, secure rented homes are demolished to be replaced by new private unaffordable housing developments,” says Paul Burnham of Haringey Defend Council Housing, part of a London-wide campaign against the loss of the city’s council homes and entire estates.
“There are 255,000 households on London local authority housing waiting lists but these plans will do nothing for them.”
Some additional notes on LREF:
Exhibitors for LREF 2015, paying an advertised £13,000 plus VAT for a stand at the two-day event, include:
- Argent (King’s Cross developers)
- Brookfield (London Wall)
- Canary Wharf
- City of London
- The Crown Estate
- Derwent London
- Helical Bar
- Land Securities
- Lend Lease (Heygate/Elephant & Castle)
- New West End Company
- Old Oak Common and Park Royal Development Corporation
- Silvertown Partnership
- TH Real Estate
- Wanda One
LREF’s principal sponsors this year include Earls Court masterplan developer Capco, commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield, and agents Knight Frank and Savills. Event organisers Pipers run LREF, in association with its partner organisation, New London Architecture, a membership body that hosts debates on London’s built environment.
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, June 2015