James Raynor Chief Executive, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland

Posted on 09 December 2020

“I’d love for us to have the aim of being the greenest global city. For me that’s just a question of being very clear about what a… what would be a great goal for the city, you know, over the next 30 years.”

Susan Freeman

Hi, I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our PropertyShe podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya, in association with the London Real Estate Forum, where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the wonderful world of Real Estate and the Built Environment. We’re still recording the podcast digitally so the sound quality may not be up to our usual studio standard.

Today, I’m delighted to welcome James Raynor. James has overall responsibility for the Grosvenor Britain and Ireland business which owns and manages the London estate in Mayfair and Belgravia and a range of new developments including a 1500 home build-to-rent site in Bermondsey and eight new communities across the south-east of England.

James joined Grosvenor in Paris in 2004, where he led Grosvenor’s international fund management activity. He was then appointed Chief Executive of Grosvenor Europe in 2013. Before Grosvenor, James was the senior director of European Real Estate at Royal Bank of Scotland in Paris and a non-exec director of Nordisk Renting in Sweden. James is a board member of INREV and the Westminster Property Association and sits on the British Property Federation’s policy committee. He was educated at the universities of Greenwich and Lille in France.

For over 300 years, we’ve been pioneering change and new ways of thinking about property in the UK. Today, we’re focused on redefining the relationship between landlords, tenants and communities, based on a model of mutual success and putting the environment at the heart of every decision we make. This way, we can ensure our places are fit for the future.

So, now we’re going to hear from James Raynor on how Grosvenor are redefining the relationship with their tenants and communities and future proofing their places with a focus on the environment.

James, welcome, thank you for joining us today. I’m particularly delighted to be talking to you because I spent the first part of my career working in Brook Street, right in the middle of the Grosvenor estate and was so impressed with the way the Grosvenor used its 300 years of experience to manage a unique combination of businesses and residential tenants. So, I think you joined Grosvenor in 2004 in Paris where you learned the international fund management business so were you educated in France?

James Raynor

Well, Susan thanks very much for having me. Well, I was in part at least. I went to University in the UK and then I went to University again in France which sort of gave me, I guess, a taste of the country and also the language which then in itself gave me an opportunity later on when I was working to move over and work there, which I enjoyed very much.

Susan Freeman

And you then moved over to London a few years later and you have been there ever since. So, you are just launching your pathway to achieving net-zero carbon emissions in 2030. Is climate change important to you personally?

James Raynor

Yeah. I mean I think personally, it’s very important to me. I mean, you just can’t help but realise, you know, how crucial it is to get this right, particularly at this moment. It seems to me that we are at a juncture of time which is very close to a, to a tipping point and I like the idea that we can tip things in the right way, which I think we can provided we all get on with it. You know, I think this is something where the time for long-term planning and thinking is probably gone and it is really we’re moving into a moment where we require action because every delay will just make it harder.

Susan Freeman

So, you’re aiming for net-zero by 2030, which is ambitious. Why is it important to get there? I mean, it’s 10 years. There’s going to be a lot to do.

James Raynor

Yeah, I mean when I first started talking about the aims and the time frame and somebody explained it to me in a way that I quite liked because it was very simple and I tend to favour the simple over the complicated which was, you know, ultimately it’s a bit like skiing, you know, if you start today, then you’re sort of on a blue slope you know, the odd tricky bit but manageable because the end point is sort of fixed. Whereas if you start in a few years’ time, then you move onto a red slope because you’ve still got to hit the end point and if you wait even longer you’re on a black slope. Being somebody who’s an awful skier, I just thought, “Well, I’d prefer to see if we can stay on the green and blue slopes to get there.”  I think also the fact of having a real tight time frame gives you the focus that this one, is really urgent and two, because it is so urgent it needs to be an absolute priority rather than something that can be pushed off because it’ll be somebody else’s problem. It clearly isn’t somebody else’s problem, it’s our problem.

Susan Freeman

And I think it’s probably fair to say that it’s not a new initiative for the Grosvenor. I think you made a commitment last May that you were going to achieve a goal, so it’s something that you’ve already been working on and probably achieving quite a lot on.

James Raynor

Yeah. I mean I think that it’s, you know, since about 2014 or ‘15 we’ve had a variety of targets to reduce energy consumption and so on, which we’ve done pretty successfully. You know, we’ve spent quite a lot of money in retrofitting the estate already and we’ve seen a 25% improvement because of that and we’ve tried passive house and so on. So, we’ve been sort of really taking it, I suppose, as seriously as we could but I think that the bar of how serious you need to take it has now ramped up a bit. So, I feel glad that we had some experience because it feels that we’re not total novices in this, which is a good thing. And also we have some proof points that show, show how it works because to an extent, you know, a lot of this is a slight step into the unknown, so knowing what works and what doesn’t and figuring that out is a crucial step for everyone to take.

Susan Freeman

What I think is particularly interesting is that a lot of the sustainability initiatives seem to focus on new-build and of course quite a lot of your London estate is existing stock, much of it historic and I think 95% of your London estate is in a conservation area with, I think, 500 listed buildings. So, can heritage buildings be retrofitted at a reasonable cost?

James Raynor

Well, I mean I think, well, let’s come back to how we define “reasonable” I suppose. But I think you’re right I mean you know, everyone does focus on new developments but clearly the thing to get right is the standing stock because there is far more standing stock than there is you know, new development stock and particularly in the UK, the heritage buildings, this is an important point. I mean, there’s probably a quarter of the buildings in the whole of the UK that pre-date the first world war and you know, you’re not going solve this problem if you don’t find a solution to those buildings and now you’re right, with the estate we are about 94-95% in a conservation area, many, many listed buildings and just heritage buildings and that can make things tricky and we’re spending a lot of time at the moment with the Government with regards to its sort of planning papers. Sort of trying to highlight the fact that the, that heritage and carbon should not be sort of oil and water, they need to be able to deal with each other. And I think that you can very sensitively retrofit heritage buildings I mean, I think we’ve probably done about 400 buildings since about 2013/14 and that has had an impact. Now, the reasonable cost. I think, because at the moment you know, everybody views this as a cost and I can see why. It’s because we can’t quite yet work out how you know, we can necessarily attribute value. But my belief is that we will be able to attribute value because I think in the same way that a valuation should take into account necessary CapEx to maintain the building at a reasonable level, I think going forward that that same logic can apply to, to works that are required to bring a building up to the right environmental standards and I view this as a positive, in fact, I mean our aim, always, is to have buildings that attract the best tenants. I think that the best tenants are going to want buildings that are not just nice-looking buildings or are functional buildings but ones that are from an energy perspective, incredibly high-performing and I think that that’s the right thing. So, we’re many things but in simple form we’re a provider of space for companies to use in order to manage and run their own businesses and they will have choice and we want them to choose us.

Susan Freeman

So, even for landlords that aren’t perhaps taking this as seriously as the Grosvenor, it will become a necessity…

James Raynor

Yeah.

Susan Freeman

…because they will be driven there by their occupiers?

James Raynor

Yeah. I think that’s right.

Susan Freeman

And since we’re talking about the occupiers, the end users this initiative presumably will only work if you take your tenants with you. What are you able to do to influence the behaviour of your tenants to reduce carbon emissions in their buildings because I presume you’re having to work with them on this? You can’t do it on your own.

James Raynor

Yeah I think if you don’t work in partnership in the broader sense then, then this won’t work and so, I think you’ve got several levels of partnership. You’ve got a very obvious one with the whole of your supply chain and there we are trying to get them to sign up to the same commitments as we are. But also, with the tenants because ultimately you know, an empty building creates a lot less consumption than a full one. So, what we’re doing is, on the one hand retrofitting the building so that they’re as efficient as they possibly can be but then also working with the tenants as to how they procure their own energy so they can do so in the greenest possible way and you know, so we are talking at the moment with lots and lots of tenants about what we would call “Green Leases” and as part of that, that is you know, that they engage to procure their energy from renewable sources and often actually we can procure that very well on their behalf, so that becomes something that they don’t have to worry about either. And we’re hoping that within the next five years we will have more than half of our tenants will be on you know, a form of Green Lease whereby we’re massively reducing the impact of the consumption of those buildings.

Susan Freeman

And under those Green Leases, do you monitor data in the building so that you know, you can collect the data and check exactly how things are going?

James Raynor

Yeah. I think, I think we’re on a journey when it comes to data. This is you know, like many things now, we’re realising the value of data and the value of being able to prove what works and what doesn’t work and make interventions that allow momentum to continue, you know, is crucial. So, we’re looking to collect as much data as we can and obviously we need to assure our tenants that this isn’t for any sort of nefarious purposes. It’s genuinely because we need to know, because by being able to track things you can see how well you’re doing and what maybe needs to be adjusted and I think that one of the challenges probably the industry has faced in a way in getting this whole thing going has been a lack of real tangible data where people might know what their energy is being consumed in their common parts of their building but those are a fraction of the whole building and if you can’t get the data from your, from your tenants then you’re somewhat stymied in your goals.

Susan Freeman

And what sort of reaction are you getting from tenants?  Is it some positive?  Some not so positive?

James Raynor

I’d like to think more positive than not. But I don’t think, with any request, I mean you’re never going to get 100% “hallelujah” are you?

Susan Freeman

No and I think a lot of it is education because I think it’s only sort of relatively recently that the concept that the built environment is responsible for such a high percentage of carbon emissions has actually come to the fore and, I mean, we know now that globally 40% or so of carbon emissions are construction and built environment but I believe the figure is actually even higher in Westminster and in London.

James Raynor

Yeah I mean, I think the really dense urban centres are really disproportionately responsible. So, I suppose we have a disproportionate responsibility to get things right you know. I think that the tenants are… and occupiers I mean, they’re on the same journey. You know, they may be in slightly different places you know, according to the company but by and large I think everybody gets it and everybody realises that no one company or one industry can get there alone on this. I very much want us to you know, take a completely open kind of source, open book approach to this and that you know, we don’t know everything and if there are other property companies that have a “eureka” moment, I very much hope that they would share it with them. This is not an area of for me, of competition. This is an area of, “If we all cooperate we’ll get better” and that’s the aim here.

Susan Freeman

And you know, we were talking about the need for collaboration and I can see that I mean, Westminster Council and most of your London estate is in Westminster you know, Westminster Council are taking it very seriously. Also, Westminster Property Association you know, have just issued their white paper. Is there anybody else that needs to be stepping forward or, or just sort of helping push this forward?

James Raynor

Well, I think that the industry itself is coming together quite well and then and as you say, Westminster Council and so on I mean, I think are absolutely on the same page. Generally, things that help initiatives move along tend to be in the form of legislation or awareness of legislation that could be coming down the road. So, if you know that there will be a tax on buildings that have high levels of emission then you’re motivated to do something about it. I almost prefer to think about it coming the other way, which if you can, incentivise people to invest in a green ecological sense into their buildings, to improve things and if there was some benefit through tax or otherwise of doing that, then I think then you would really give a lot of people a motivation to do that investment. Which in itself is also an investment in the overall economy. I think that it would be really interesting to see the Government thinking about that at a national level of motivating people to invest either as individuals or as companies into the green economy.

Susan Freeman

I think that’s a good idea and you know I was talking to a developer client about this and he was saying there really is no incentive to repurpose your building rather than knock it down and start again and I think it would be good to incentivise that because it would certainly help. And air quality, again, I know it’s a key focus for the Grosvenor and one of the things you were looking at was testing green lampposts to see if they could help clean the air but it seems that we’ve got quite a job to do on traffic congestion and air quality in the West End and it’s difficult to know what the answer is to that.

James Raynor

Yeah. It’s a very difficult question but at the same time perhaps you know, there is a simple way forward. So, thinking about one of your starting comments about the management of an estate of space and so on, this is really about trying to constantly think about you know, how do you create a very pleasant environment?  An environment that people are drawn to and enjoy being in, being part of and you know, having a, a strong community in the broader sense of the term. And I think that what we’re seeing now, clearly, is that a real factor in whether you enjoy the environment you’re in, whether you want to be there, is impacted by air quality. I mean, the studies of the impact on what it has on people’s wellbeing, their sense of happiness and so on, is pretty clear. Now, I sort of think that that feels like a tricky solution but really, is it?  I mean, we’re a major city. We’ve had massive technological advances. We have on the whole pretty good infrastructure. Do we need to be as bound to the automobile as we have been?  I don’t see that we do. So, I think that there’s a very clear path to improving air quality through the reduction of emissions that come from cars because I just don’t see that there are or there is the need, the same need for the same quantity of traffic in the centre of London as there has been. And perhaps that will become clearer as well in the aftermath of Covid. But you know, you’re always looking I think at cities and we should remember London is a, is a leading global city that you need ways of differentiating yourself and standing out from other cities so that when people you know, who are international company or as individuals make choices as to where they want to be, they choose London. I think that you know, I’d love for us to have the aim of being the greenest global city. For me, that’s just a question of being very clear about what would be a great goal for the city you know, over the next 30 years. I think imagining what that would look like, you can clearly see that it should be you know less car-bound in the centre and if we all work towards that then, you know, I think a lot of positive things will come along with it.

Susan Freeman

So, we talked a little bit about you know, collaboration and, and trust and last year the Grosvenor conducted a survey that bound, I think 2% of a public trust’s developers. I think that is particularly in relation to you know, planning large-scale developments but it does sort of stand out as a bit of a headline and I know that you have responded to that and what are the Grosvenor doing to sort of try and counter that and engender some trust between the developer and the community?

James Raynor

Yeah. I mean I think it was an interesting study. I mean, it showed not only did people not trust developers but they didn’t trust planning authorities either so it just seems that the whole system probably wasn’t in a place or maybe isn’t in a place where it should be. I don’t profess to be better than anybody else on this but what I do do is I look at one of the core objectives that I’ve set for the company which is to be very clear that it has to contribute positively to the community that it’s involved in. So, you know, we have a clear goal for climate change and we have a clear goal for community and that requires that we have an understanding of you know on the one hand, what are things that positively contribute to communities?  Because the risk you know, we don’t want to fall into sort of total nimbyism either. But also being clear that we understand what all parts of the community want. And so how do you best engage with the community to get the broadest possible understanding of what all stakeholders want?  Often, one of the criticisms that is laid at the path of the way the planning works is that very small but well-mobilised numbers of people have a disproportionate say over what happens. And then I think that’s just because there’s a very large proportion of people who are not quite entirely sure how to have a say or whether they can be bothered because maybe they don’t think they’ll be listened to so we sort of started a programme that we call Positive Space, which is around trying to help improve engagement and lay out the way that we will engage with people and that we generally will listen and we will give them feedback. We will be transparent in what we’re trying to achieve. I think we accept that people won’t always agree with us or they might not like what we’re doing but hopefully by engaging in a very proactive way and in a very sort of open book way, they will at least understand that our aim is not for just something to work for us but it has to work more broadly than that and in the same way that they may not like it personally, doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessarily a good thing either. So, it is okay for different points of view to co-exist, I think. And as part of that, we’re also specifically outreaching to you know, the sort of 13 to 18 year old age group, who frankly are the future of most of the communities that we’re in and I think rarely have a voice at all and I think it would be really interesting to hear from them and what they want when it comes to you know, new developments within their communities. I mean, I think that the, not unique, but we’re rare in the sense of the concentration of property we have in one place and that has made me very aware from the beginning of the year when I took on this job that you can’t possibly think that we would be successful at the expense of the community. It just doesn’t work that way. Any success that we may have in the future is entirely linked to the communities and neighbourhoods in which we’re active also being successful and also benefitting from the work that we do.

Susan Freeman

I do think the Grosvenor is unusual in as I said at the beginning having known worked on the estate. I remember actually going round the estates with the then estate manager and just struck by the fact every tenant on the Mayfair Estate knew who the Grosvenor representative was. That is, that is quite unusual. What sort of response are you getting from your 13 to 18 year olds because they’re the ones that actually, probably have the strongest ideas of you know, what they want the planet to look like when they are of working age?

James Raynor

Yeah I mean, I think that it’s been good. I have to say I mean I was a little sceptical when the team came and said, “This is really what we want to do” and I was thinking, “Christ, when I was 13 to 18 it was a struggle to get out of bed, probably” but actually I think that there’s a lot of people who’ve proven to be quite passionate about engaging. And part of it is also I think from them, also learning how to engage to have influence because just being, just having a point of view doesn’t necessarily give you influence and I think that that’s what we’re trying to help them do and it’s early on. It’s early doors here so we’ll see. But I think that it’s a big push for us over the next twelve months to continue this.

Susan Freeman

Yeah, it will be interesting to see how that goes because previous generations have clearly got a number of things wrong so we do need, we do need some new ideas. Obviously, the last few months has been a little bit taken up with Covid and I think a lot of people have seen it as a wake-up call and opportunity to do things differently and obviously as a landlord you’ve had to respond to the crisis. I mean one of the things that I think Grosvenor has done which is quite unusual is to selectively invest in certain tenants and give them support and that’s not necessarily something that landlords’ have done before. But presumably it is only in particular cases and where you can see a sort of longer-term business reason for doing it?

James Raynor

Yes, that’s right. I mean, I think for some time we’ve been thinking that the relationship between landlord and tenant is an evolving one and that historic relationship may well have been “We’ll sign a 25 year lease and then we’ll see you in 25 years” and I just don’t think that that works anymore, particularly on the retail side of things where you know, the relationship really has to evolve itself into a partnership really and therefore you need to be more open to different ideas of what the nature of the contract is going to be between the two parties. And that’s all quite new and so as a result I think it’s quite exciting now. I think that Covid, if anything, you know just accelerated that and that was happening, I think, anyway. So, one of the things that we thought very much with regards to our tenants and many of our tenants, I would say, on the retail side are more independent small businesses. There’s a few that are not, obviously but by and large that would be the vast majority of them. When they’re effectively told to close down and they can’t trade, I mean that is an extraordinary thing. Nobody would plan for that. Nobody could think about what that could mean. And our view was, “Well, yes of course it’s good that the Government steps in but we want to sort of help as well” because it was important that they felt the confidence to keep fighting. Because there was an end game and the end game was you know, “When we come through this, we’ll reopen. Our streets will be full. Therefore they will be vibrant.”  What you don’t want is to come through this and find out you’ve got half-empty streets that are not appealing to people to go to because then it’s even harder to dig yourself out of the hole. So, we were quite clear in the objectives that we had, which was to support that occupancy and where businesses you know, were viable and they literally were, things were out of their control to not make things worse. But what I think we realised as we went through that process was you know, we gave a lot of people some rent-free or deferrals or different types of support but what that’s really doing is just helping them on the cost side. And a lot of these businesses, to come through this, what they need is support to grow the top line. To try a new product, to have a new brand line or to do whatever it is that they want to do. They need to have that and they were eating through their own capital supplies and their own savings and so on, so maybe that was going to be difficult for them so, you know, I think we wanted it to be clear to our tenant base and also potentially for new tenants who wanted to come onto the estate that, you know, we were open to different ways of thinking about things. Now, it wasn’t clearly ever going to work for every single person who you know, but for some you know then that seemed to me that there was a good opportunity to say, “Well, look we can maybe help your business grow and therefore we can be really a partner in the broadest sense of the term” and I think that that… we’ll see how that goes. Again, I mean we’re sort of six months into doing this but we’ve found that it’s really made us think long and hard about our own understanding of the tenants to become clear that we have to be much more customer-centric as a business. I think as an industry I wouldn’t say that we are particularly customer-centric and I think we really want to make sure that we are and we can be seen as a sort of landlord of choice in a way. And so hopefully we will be spurred to do more and more innovative things because notwithstanding the history and heritage of the company, I would like us to be perceived as a you know, as quite an adventurous, forward-thinking, progressive business as well.

Susan Freeman

And just to put this in context, you do have quite a lot of retail on the estate. I think you know, if you just look at the, the size your retail ranks as the third largest UK shopping centre, so that’s quite significant.

James Raynor

Yeah.

Susan Freeman

I think one of the things that you have been advocating for recently is a reversal on the Government decision on tax-free shopping, which you know, if London is to continue to compete on the global stage you know, we really don’t want to be put at a disadvantage. Are you getting anywhere on that?

James Raynor

It feels like we might be losing this one. I mean, we - not just us but generally. I mean, this for me, I mean, I think there are parts of London that are more reliant probably on high net-worth tourists than we are. But I viewed this as the company has something that was an impact on London more broadly and we should you know not feel you know, ashamed of standing up for the city which seems to be getting whacked about a bit by central Government. I mean, this is a ruling that doesn’t really make any sense. It doesn’t really create a great saving in the scheme of things. It puts vast amounts of jobs at risk of redundancy. It sort of reduces our own standing within global rankings and I think frankly it also impacts a number of other cities around the country who have been trying very much to grow their own tourist business - from Edinburgh to Liverpool - and it’s just something that just doesn’t… no matter, how many times people have explained it to me, it just doesn’t make any sense. And so, my view was we really need to, all of us, particularly the Government, be supporting the things that make London unique and its retail and hospitality and its cultural sectors are very much one of the things that make London the great city that it is.

Susan Freeman

Yes, and one of the things that you said at our Conservative Party Conference Virtual Round Table this year is that London needs a long-term plan and strategy and we need to think about how we’re going to be seen on the, on the world stage. I mean, what more can we do to drive that forward because we’re going to have to work pretty hard coming out of Covid to rebuild our position.

James Raynor

Yes. I suppose the only other… the thing that I would say though is so are a lot of other cities. You know, I don’t think that anybody you know, particularly on the European stage has come out of this unaffected. I mean, London has a lot of very natural attributes to it you know, it’s got scale, it’s got a very highly educated workforce. It’s time zone is very good if you want to work in both Asia and the US. English language is the first language and that is helpful in an international sense. So, it has all of these things. It’s got great infrastructure, it’s got great institutions. For me, the first thing is, don’t forget that it has all of those things. I fully applaud the Government wanting to level up and that makes a lot of sense but you know, level up don’t level down. You know, I think the – London is, it’s just a fact, a very important contributor to the UK and if we want the UK to be successful which I think we all do then remember you need to have London as a successful city and cities – or in fact, anything that has great success rarely does it get there completely by accident, there is some real sense of direction of how we would like London to be perceived. I suspect that if you went around and you asked a lot of people you know, “Do you have a clear view of what the vision for London is?” they wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Susan Freeman

No, I think we have to, we have to create, we have to create one. And one of London’s advantages, I think, is all the green outdoor space and on the Grosvenor you have quite a lot of it, I think you’ve got around 25 acres of green space.

James Raynor

Yep.

Susan Freeman

I’m particularly excited about the plans for Grosvenor Square. I mean, you’ve talked about it as a new ecosystem and something that will show what’s possible to create with our public spaces in the 21st Century. So, is that up until now I mean, Grosvenor Square you know, very nice but it’s just really grass. What are you planning for it?

James Raynor

It’s very nice of you. I’m not even sure it’s very nice. I mean, at the moment it’s a convenient way to get you know, to walk through from one street to another but it doesn’t particularly, other than in a few months of the year where it’s, it’s nice weather outside, do a great deal. You know, my belief is that people have always enjoyed green spaces across London. They’ve enjoyed being part of them. I think that that has dialled up 10 times over the past seven or eight months where people have you know recognised, particularly when they’re confined to their homes, that that benefit they get from the 45 minutes or whatever it is to be outside next to some form of greenery and nature is you know for me, personally, I’ve found it essential in terms of trying to get through the day, to have that connection. I think that with Grosvenor Square because it you know, it’s very, very big and it’s very, very central. We think that if we think about it imaginatively and through you know, replanting - obviously preserving all the good stuff that is there but just re-wilding it, making it a lot more interesting then more people will want to take pleasure in being there and people will travel to be there because it is a really nice environment to be in and ultimately move it away from being just a short-cut from point A to point B to being a place where people want to spend time and what a tremendous amenity to have in the centre of a, of a city.

Susan Freeman

Well, having seen the you know, the drawings and what you’re planning to do there, it looks terrific. I just wanted to talk a little bit about Bermondsey, your development there. Just moving slightly outside the, the Mayfair Estate. So, congratulations for winning the New London Architecture Planning Award for Bermondsey. I just thought it was interesting when Peter Murray announced the award, he said it stood above the rest and it was interesting because it’s been developed by one of the historic estates for the long-term and with patient capital and that the community is going to be the beneficiary of that which you know, highlights the fact that if you are able to take you know, a longer view, you can possibly do more. So, what are you creating at Bermondsey?

James Raynor

Well, it’s a build, it’s a build-to-rent scheme. You know, around the what was the historic biscuit factory, Peak Freen Biscuit Factory down there. That would be about 1500 units. That will be delivered on a phased basis. It’s very much a mixed community so there’s 35% affordable housing within it. There’s quite a lot of commercial space as you can imagine. There’s also – I never quite get the number right – about 60,000 square feet of office building as well. So, it’s a sort of in a way, a formal another estate. You know, it's 12 acres down there and that’s what we’re trying to deliver is something that sits very well and delivers to the need of that area but also beyond that area. It’s quite a strategic location. It’s quite simple to get to Canary Wharf. It’s quite simple to get to the West End and you can walk over the bridge to get to the city so it should serve a lot of destinations. I think it’s a really ambitious project. I think that we… it’s taken us a long time to get through the planning process, probably too long. But if you, you know, during that time frame there’s been a real rise in the build-to-rent sector. You know, now this is now starting to be seen as an area that  you know, London doesn’t have enough housing. You can’t just have housing that is for people to buy because you know it’s quite a high price point. People need time to you know save money for their own sort of deposits and so on and therefore modern well-managed safe build-to-rent with lots of amenity that has great community feel from day one, is an area that is increasingly of interest to many, many investors. So, I think we feel quite fortunate that we have this site and the ability to move ahead and do this which hopefully we will start on site next year.

Susan Freeman

That’s really interesting. So, you will effectively be bringing the sort of Grosvenor sort of strategy vision to another part of London?

James Raynor

I guess so, I mean I think that we do see that you know, inherent within our DNA is what we would called Estate Management. The notion that you know, owning a lot of property in one place is different from owning a lot of property in different places. And there is therefore you know, a real interplay between what you do on… you know, what the left hand does impacts what the right hand does and you need to be constantly recognising that lots of different factors intertwine. Yeah so I think what we’re doing is not sort of shying away from what we see as our USP. So, in a similar way to back in 2008/2009 when we delivered you know, Liverpool One in Liverpool. Again, the heart of that was our belief that we understood how to put together an estate in a way, in a planned way, that worked very well. And I think you know if you look at the success that Liverpool One has had and its contribution to helping revitalise the, the centre of Liverpool, then I think we do sometimes get it right.

Susan Freeman

I think that’s right and with over 300 years of experience and during that time there have been lots of ups and downs and shocks…

James Raynor

Yep.

Susan Freeman

…I think that sort of experience must really help. I’ve just really got a final question. We talk about Covid as being you know, the great accelerator and we’re working in a sector - real estate – which isn’t renowned for being particularly good at change. How do you think the sector generally is going to be able to deal with all this change?  You know, we’ve got change in the office sector, in retail, in residential?  How is the sector going to cope coming out of this pandemic?

James Raynor

Well, it’s not only your last question but it’s your most difficult one. How…? Well, I think we will… we just need to take on board that things will be different and that’s okay. And maybe look to seek out and embrace how things could be different rather than trying to say, “Let’s try and melt together something that looks a bit similar to what it used to look like.”  Because I’m not sure that that’s the way forward. I think that recognising that that relationship between proxy owner and occupier needs to change, needs to become a lot more transparent, needs to become a lot more flexible and proactive. I think is a very good start. I think recognising that professional ownership of property is exactly that. You know, you will need professional ownership of property to be able to adapt. I think we will need to embrace technology in finding solutions to the problems we have. I think you know I read all the time about PropTech. I’ve not really come across anything that seems to be earth-shattering but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be. And I think we need to be on the lookout for that. So, you know, I think the sector will adapt. I mean, we, we always have adapted in reality maybe not as quickly as we should do but if you just look at how buildings that exist today that existed 200 years ago were occupied, it’s entirely different and it will be again and that’s okay. I think don’t worry about the adapting just get on with doing it and we’ll all be happy at some point.

Susan Freeman

Well, it may have been a difficult question but I think that was a pretty, a pretty good answer, James, and very positive. So, thank you very much.

James Raynor

Well, you’re welcome. Thank you very much.

Susan Freeman

Thank you, James Raynor, for joining us today to bring us up to date with the way Grosvenor are using over 300 years of experience to ensure that their communities are futureproofed.

So, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation. Please join us for the next PropertyShe podcast interview coming very soon.

The PropertyShe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at Mishcon.com/propertyshe along with all our interviews and programme notes. The podcasts are also available to subscribe to on your apple podcast app and on Spotify and whatever podcast app you use. Do continue to subscribe and let us have your feedback and comments and most importantly, suggestions for future guests. And of course, you can continue to follow me on Twitter @propertyshe and on LinkedIn for a very regular commentary on all things real estate, PropTech and the built environment.

James is CEO of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland and has overall responsibility for the business, which owns and manages the London Estate in Mayfair and Belgravia, and a range of new developments including a 1,500 home build to rent site in Bermondsey and eight new communities across the south east of England.

James joined Grosvenor in Paris in 2004, where he led Grosvenor's international fund management activity. He was then appointed Chief Executive of Grosvenor Europe in 2013. Before Grosvenor, James was the Senior Director of European Real Estate at Royal Bank of Scotland in Paris and a Non-Executive Director of Nordisk Renting in Sweden.

James is a Board member of INREV and the Westminster Property Association and sits on the BPF’s Policy Committee. He was educated at the Universities of Greenwich and Lille, France.

In December 2020, Grosvenor released Think Zero, its zero carbon pathway. James said: “For over 300 years we’ve been pioneering change and new ways of thinking about property in the UK. Today we’re focussed on redefining the relationship between landlords, tenants and communities, based on a model of mutual success, and putting the environment at the heart of every decision we make. This way we can ensure our places are fit for the future. "

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