MIPIM UK Day One – the protestors are here, but not enough politicians

Attendees at the first day of the UK’s biggest property marketplace at London Olympia had to run a gauntlet of protestors this morning, but the people who actually take the decisions about development in the UK were in short supply.

MIPIM, the world’s leading property and development marketplace, has made the leap from Cannes to London for the first time this year, as MIPIM UK opened its doors at Olympia. If delegates needed any further reminder that they weren’t on La Croisette any more, it arrived in the form of the very vocal protestors who greeted them at the main entrance this morning.

Once inside, it was more like business as usual, apart from an interesting moment when the protestors attempted to charge the entrance hall… Never let it be said that London doesn’t add excitement to any occasion.

Apart from being better prepared to deal with and not be panicked by lawful and totally predictable protest, MIPIM will have learnt some hugely important logistical lessons today – the acoustics are awful for this sort of event and i can think of venues like ExCeL that would have done this so much better with rooms that were large enough to handle the crowds – the room for the Boris Johnson set piece was nowhere near big enough.

Unperturbed by the kerfuffle outside, the Mayor of London opened proceedings with his usual flair, welcoming MIPIM to our capital and praising London’s status as an outstanding investment opportunity for the property and development sector and as a catalyst for growth across the UK.

So, there was at least one high profile politician present, and they don’t come much more prominent than the blond-mopped Mayor and potential future Conservative Leader. But elsewhere, whether you were looking for government ministers responsible for policy and infrastructure decisions, or local authority councillors responsible for planning and regeneration, they seemed to be in remarkably short supply. Some WERE here – I think of Emma Reynolds MP, Greg Clarke MP and Councillor Lib Peck but no panel should address an issue of housing and planning needing to get radical to deliver more homes with only men from the private sector. Only Berkeley Home’s Tony Pidgley saved that particular one from disaster.

We need every discussion to have a mixed public private dimension. First, there are many local authorities and local development partnerships here, promoting hugely important and exciting regeneration projects that could shape the fortunes of regions and the lives of hundreds of thousands for years to come. Second, there are huge numbers of the investors, developers, architects and other professionals here who would turn these development plans into reality. And they are all crying out for leadership from central and local government to enable regeneration projects, new developments and infrastructure initiatives to actually proceed.

At every panel discussion and debate I have attended today the people tasked with building the new houses, offices, schools and hospitals the country needs, plus the vital infrastructure to connect them, have called for clearer guidance and support from central and local government to help them to deliver. Yet, only two panels I saw included a national level politician and Boris came and went with his usual alacrity. This seems to me a wasted opportunity, as there are so many opportunities for great working partnerships to be forged right here, where politicians can make a huge difference for the good.

A great example of positive working partnerships is in Croydon, where regeneration plans for the central area are making great progress.  At a panel discussion hosted by Jo Negrini, Executive Director of the Environment & Development team tasked with transforming the heart of Croydon, there was praise aplenty for the local politicians of all party hues across two administrations who have worked hard to create the foundations for the exciting development that’s taking place in the Borough. There is clearly a warm welcome in store for elected representatives who want to make a real difference.

MIPIM UK is a really important new marketplace for sharing best practice like that demonstrated in Croydon, for providing the forum for people who want to help shape the future of the UK to discuss how to go about doing so, and to make the connections to actually make change happen. Our politicians should be playing a more prominent role in this process, given that the decisions ultimately lie in their hands. Hopefully we will see more of them getting involved, if not in the coming days, then at future events. Let’s hope the frosty reception afforded by this morning’s protestors hasn’t scared them off.

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