Look to the past to create a better future

Craig McWilliam, Executive Director of the London estate, looks at the lessons that  London and other growing cities can learn from London's historic estates.

5th December 2014

London is growing and we all have a challenge to accommodate this growth while creating and managing great places to live and work in. There are lessons to be learned from London’s historic estates; they are some of the most successful and most intensively used parts of the city. They constantly renew themselves, and Grosvenor constantly refreshes buildings and nurtures the public realm.

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A steward seeks to create value in the whole neighbourhood, rather than a particular project. Empty sites or properties in disrepair detract from the value of the estate, so there is the ‘carrot’ of the investment opportunity of the site itself, and also the ‘stick’ of the impact on the surroundings.

Grosvenor’s vision for managing and creating great urban places is to be the long-term steward of high-quality, mixed-use neighbourhoods, with a vibrant community. Since the London estate was developed in the 18th century, Grosvenor has always looked at the estate as a single asset and recognised that the best places had a mix of uses. By investing in the parts of the estate that do not directly make money, the estate added value to the areas that were for rent or for sale. Grosvenor built squares and gardens, streets of shops, mews houses, schools and affordable housing, all components of the estate that are still evident.

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As a result, estates support a variety of occupiers who create a vibrant, secure and accessible community; the antithesis of the large, uniform developments of the 1960s that did not adequately represent the diversity of London. We believe the strength of our local community is as important as their environment. Their needs must be incorporated in the design and management of a neighbourhood and it must support a mix of people. A feature of estates is that the adaptability of buildings and places has helped maintain value as we allow changing demand to drive use, ensuring these places continue to meet the demands of London, redeveloping neglected buildings and areas to meet new needs.

Amenity and beauty are sought after by tenants and customers, and a steward who will benefit from the value growth can afford to invest more in the present. Grosvenor is always recreating the London estate and investing in new buildings, public places and amenities. We have used the same approach in Liverpool, Cambridge and Edinburgh.

Some may say the historic estates are an anachronism but the question for London is how does it create the estates for the future, and who are its stewards?

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