What a real estate week!

Posted on 12 April 2017 by Susan Freeman

Property Week Awards Dinner: This year’s Property Week Awards Dinner at the Grosvenor House was a vintage event. Like all self-respecting real estate events these days it was characterised by ‘rent a crowd’ protestors outside the hotel. They certainly didn’t dampen the good spirits of the gathering. I was delighted to be seated next to my friend, up and coming proptech entrepreneur, Savannah de Savary, still elated by the recent news of Nick Leslau’s investment in her proptech start up, Built-ID (formerly IndustryHub). I knew when I first met Savannah last year, in my capacity as mentor to proptech incubator Pi Labs that she was destined for great things but she really has moved quickly! On my other side, I was flattered to be placed next to the husband of Property Week Editor, and our hostess for the evening, Liz Hamson. I had to be on my best behaviour and I will not mention his name in order to protect his anonymity, such as it is. Suffice it to say he is also a journalist!

I particularly enjoyed the evening which was enhanced by the MC, adorable comedian Jon Culshaw, who did his famous Trump imitation – the best I have heard. He managed to keep the high spirited audience entertained throughout the evening without being offensive.

It was a great set of awards. A highlight for me was seeing industry veteran David Coffer of The Coffer Group going up on stage to receive two awards for Retail Agent and then for Niche Agent of the year.

I particularly enjoyed the evening which was enhanced by the MC, adorable comedian Jon Culshaw, who did his famous Trump imitation – the best I have heard. He managed to keep the high spirited audience entertained throughout the evening without being offensive.

It was a great set of awards. A highlight for me was seeing industry veteran David Coffer of The Coffer Group going up on stage to receive two awards for Retail Agent and then for Niche Agent of the year.

It was also touching to see Citygrove’s Toby Baines presenting Legal & General’s Bill Hughes with the coveted Personality of the Year Award as they are veterans of at least one charity Everest expedition together. And of course there were well deserved awards for Gerald Eve, Savills, Battersea Power Station, Derwent, Aviva, Cushman & Wakefield, Google, Malcolm Hollis, Grainger, Derwent, Cain Hoy, Patron Capital, Nash Bond, VTS, Place Partnership, U+I, Grosvenor and Young Personalities, William Newton and Tom Redmayne. So a smattering of tech awards amongst the property industry stalwarts. Finally there were two very worthy new inductees into the Hall of Fame sponsored by Harvey Soning of James Andrew International. First Gerald Ronson, the self-styled ‘dinosaur’ of the property industry, and then Sir George Iacobescu, the man behind the success of Canary Wharf.

Cllr Robert Davis Reception: The following night there was a sumptuous reception at the Royal Academy for City of Westminster outgoing Planning Chairman, Cllr Robert Davis. This was a real treat. Hosted and described by Sir Stuart Lipton as a celebration of Cllr Robert Davis’s 20 years of planning success. One eminent property personality remarked that he had never seen so many top property people packed into one room. Sir Stuart spoke first – after all, he was hosting the event. Amongst many compliments paid, Sir Stuart remarked that Davis had demonstrated how open planning should be and hoped this would continue. He concluded that Davis had done ‘astonishingly well’ – praise indeed coming from Sir Stuart.

Next up was Gerald Ronson CBE, business tycoon and philanthropist, taking the opportunity to point out that planning is ‘slow, inflexible and out of date’. That said, he conceded that it had been a pleasure dealing with Davis and his team. He also mentioned Davis’s interest in the arts, citing his contribution to London Live and Regents Park Theatre. He praised Davis as ‘a top notch professional’ and ‘a great asset’ to Westminster Council. Again, high praise from Mr Ronson!

Then we heard from theatre owner and impresario Nica Burns, the only non-property speaker of the night, who gave a virtuoso performance. She described Davis as a fantastic man and a ‘showman’. She highlighted the interest in the arts flagged by Ronson. Even those of us that have known Davis over many years learnt new details about his early theatrical aspirations. She showed some wonderful photos from Davis’s roles at London Live. Mary Poppins was one I hadn’t seen before! She praised his interest in creating ‘public spaces that inspire’ and talked about how his tenacity and attention to detail which had resulted in the rebuilding of the Astoria Theatre at Tottenham Court Rd being developed by Derwent. She praised the (many) assembled developers for managing to build in our densely packed city.

Next up was renowned American architect Lee Polisano, founder of PLP Architecture, who praised Davis’s campaign for design excellence which he said has set the bar so high. He talked of the world class place making which has resulted in City of Westminster now being the home to ‘the largest collection of high quality buildings in the world’.

We also heard from renowned local government expert, Professor Tony Travers. I have known both Travers and Davis for many years and didn’t know that they first met each other 40 years ago working in parliament. 35 years of this has been since Davis became a councillor in 1982. To give some Travers style context, he reminded us that in 1982 London’s population was only 6.5million and falling. Now it’s almost 8.8million and rising! Travers praised Davis’s diligence in overseeing Westminster’s development. As he pointed out, ‘the city changes yet it doesn’t’ as husbandry and management continues to be so important.

Sir Stuart in his MC role then took great enjoyment in introducing Steve Norris as ‘chairman of Soho’, referencing his chairmanship of Soho Estates! Steve took this well and spoke to us about democracy. ‘We have too much of it!’ he declared. ‘It blights the planning system’. He jokingly claimed that he prefers ‘benign dictatorship’ which he had failed to achieve, whereas Davis had succeeded. He praised the certainty Davis had brought to planning: ‘it saves developers money, time and effort’. Davis has been ‘a force for good’ he concluded.

The final word of course went to the man of the evening, Cllr Robert Davis. He admitted to having been scared of Sir Stuart when he first met him. He explained that he has tried to bring vision, passion and leadership to his role. He name checked his late colleague Clllr Angela Hooper, who was much admired and is still missed by those of us that knew her. He referenced, amongst his greatest achievements, the rebuilding of the Astoria Theatre with Derwent and also St James’s Theatre Victoria, now renamed. He described his new role as cabinet member for place shaping and we look forward to working with Davis in his new role. Thanks were given to a long roll call of Westminster colleagues and he particularly welcomed the new ‘Ant and Dec’ of planning, Richard Beddoe and Daniel Astaire who are beginning ‘a bright new chapter’ at Westminster.

With a final thank you to his long suffering colleagues Jeremy Freeman, Trevor Box and Howard Granville at solicitors Freeman Box, from where he has recently retired as a partner, the formal part of the evening was at an end.

It was a very special and greatly entertaining event and a real testament to the regard in which Cllr Davis and Westminster Council is held. As a bonus, amongst the great and good I was delighted to reconnect with former FT property correspondent Norma Cohen. Now immersed in a Ph.D and focusing on demographics – the vitally important issue for real estate – we are going to have a lot to talk about.

Pi Labs Demo Day: This busy week also included Pi Labs Demo Day when the latest and fourth cohort of proptech start-ups presented their businesses to a room of potential VC and angel investors. Pi Labs a proptech-focused VC platform, which runs an accelerator programme for proptech startups from the Collective’s offices in London.

The start-ups presenting included AskPam, the chat-based assistant which helps users get jobs done around the house; FalconDHQ, which has developed a mobile SaaS to help private security firms utilise data; Keepsite, a platform which helps businesses and individuals design and deliver construction projects; and finally StorageShare, an online marketplace for storage space allowing individuals to rent out their unused space. Having met the presenters just a few short months ago, it was impressive to see how far they had come.

We had some useful discussions around our new Mishcon de Reya MDR LAB initiative, an incubator for tech start-ups in the legal space. We are looking at the potential for collaboration with PiLabs and some of their start-ups.

London Chamber Post MIPIM Party: I also have to mention in dispatches the very enjoyable London Chamber Post MIPIM Party. It was a good opportunity to meet up to compare impressions of MIPIM 2017. We were treated to an upbeat address from London Chamber President Tony Pidgley who was on fine form. He even did a double act with Barking & Dagenham Council Leader Cllr Darren Rodwell. A dynamic duo that’s for sure! It was a great way to end a landmark, if tiring, week of real estate events.