On 7th December 2016, Craig McWilliam, Executive Director, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland gave a keynote speech to industry and public sector figures at the Financial Times’ Annual Property Summit in London. He outlined his view on the challenges facing civic leaders in London to create and maintain great places, and the need for new policy that unleashes the potential of the West End and unlocks new housing across the capital.
You can read a transcript of his speech below.
"London’s greatest success factor is its ability to attract and retain talent - nationally and internationally.
Key to attracting that talent will be great places that are both dense and liveable.
- Urban neighbourhoods with rich histories that offer a unique lifestyle - home to people of mixed incomes, backgrounds, life stages and jobs; and
- Commercial districts that host new jobs and greater opportunities.
It is profoundly challenging to create and manage such places in London.
The capital’s enviable success, rising demand and a population at an all-time high are creating intense pressures…
- On our infrastructure, our communities and our quality of life.
Overturning those pressures will require closer and more creative collaboration between government and the real estate industry.
But bold public sector leadership must be the starting point for success.
Our civic leaders should increasingly be judged on the quality of the places their policies create:
- Good place-based policy that avoids the binary debate of growth versus Nimbyism;
- Placemaking leadership that unleashes the potential for greater opportunities, better amenities, more jobs.
In London, that leadership, starting with the Mayor, will be driven by two things:
- A compelling vision for growth that extends opportunities to all Londoners; and
- An honest depiction of the trade-offs inherent in delivering it.
Let me briefly touch on two big opportunities for London's placemaking leadership in that context.
First, I believe the Mayor has the chance to articulate a compelling vision for the West End.
The West End is a critical asset to London and the UK:
- More productive than the City of London - the most productive part of the country;
- Hosting well over half a million jobs;
- Incredibly diverse;
- Generating almost 10% of England’s business rates.
But its success is not guaranteed.
It sits at the epicentre of pressures on London’s infrastructure and quality of life.
- At its heart, Oxford Street manifests many of them.
There have been recent improvements to the West End’s infrastructure and more are due shortly.
- The Elizabeth line is the most high-profile example.
But these in turn will only grow demand for, and pressure on, the West End.
Doing nothing is not an option.
The public-private West End Partnership recognises this and has outlined an investment plan.
But it is yet to be funded.
In turn, the Mayor has committed to transform Oxford Street - that commitment is welcome.
- It’s a necessary condition for the West End’s success, but not sufficient.
I would argue the Mayor should go further.
He should frame the bigger picture:
- Engage Londoners on the choices needed to unleash the full potential of the West End;
- Offer a counterpoint to any local politics that might frustrate the best outcome; and
- Back the principle that the proceeds of growth should be reinvested locally in the West End as well as shared nationally.
The goal should be to drive jobs and expand the West End's opportunities to all Londoners.
Of course, there are trade-offs in achieving that goal.
But they must be made against the imperative for placemaking leadership that reinvests the proceeds of growth locally to grow amenity.
I would argue the creation of jobs and growth is a route - not a barrier - to creating great places with the best amenities.
For too many years the West End’s success has been undermined by a false trade-off.
A false trade-off:
- Between economic growth, the creation of new jobs and enterprises, and a better experience for residents; or
- Between densification and enhancing the unique character of the West End
A different narrative is needed - the Mayor has the power to articulate it
Alongside that narrative, I think the housing shortage offers the second big opportunity for placemaking leadership.
In London we need to double supply:
- With a response judged not only by the number of units, but also by the quality of mixed urban neighbourhoods we create.
Arguably London government has all the devolved housing powers it needs.
With placemaking leadership it could unlock private sector capital and collaboration.
It could do so in many ways, but let me briefly highlight a couple.
First, London government should deliver a step change increase in developable land.
I’m pleased that our and others’ call have been heard for a more muscular, interventionist Mayor.
- We need a Mayoral delivery body that enables land for development with designation and new investment.
The Mayor and GLA should turn the taps on full on all forms of supply.
And second, in that context, we need a clear and unambiguous London-wide policy to unleash the Build to Rent sector to unlock a vital new source of supply.
As we know, London’s housing shortage too often leads to polarising outcomes:
- With housing available to the few who can afford to buy it, and the few who need social rented accommodation.
London government understands we need a new supply of rental homes to meet the needs of all those in the middle:
- Rental homes that can help sustain the mixed, urban neighbourhoods that make London special;
- Homes at market and discounted market rents.
And the Mayor recognises that the economics of build to rent are different to those of housing for sale:
- That PRS schemes cannot deliver the same percentage of traditional affordable or social rented homes as housing for sale.
But rather like the West End, we’re in danger of applying a false trade-off:
- Between additional rental homes that meet the needs of the many; and
- A fixed percentage of traditional affordable or social rented homes that meet the requirements of the few.
In unlocking BtR to create an additional source of supply the Mayor should avoid this false trade-off.
He should engage Londoners in the choices at play:
- Giving local authorities the political support they need to explore the full range of options they have to create great places.
A new policy and public narrative on what constitutes affordable housing will be needed to unleash a vital supply of new rental homes.
I’ve touched on two opportunities for bold, growth-promoting leadership from all tiers of London government:
- Placemaking leadership that comes with a compelling vision and an honest discussion of the trade-offs.
I look forward to hearing the debate unfold today."