Liz Peace CBE

Posted on 29 October 2020

“I hope I made a little bit of difference in getting the people who matter to actually look differently at our industry and see it for what it is actually capable of delivering which is a huge amount."

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 are still recording the podcast digitally so the sound quality may not be up to our usual studio standard.

Today I am really delighted to welcome Liz Peace who I have known since she took the property sector by storm in 2002. Liz was Chief Executive of the British Property Federation for thirteen years until her retirement in 2014. She was awarded a CBE in 2008 for Services to the Property Industry. Liz now has a portfolio career with a range of non-executive, advisory and charity roles at Howard de Walden Estates, RPS Group, RGI REIT, Holtby Turner, and the Churches Conservation Trust, Connected Places Catapult and the Whiteley Homes Trust. She is Chairman of the Architectural Heritage Fund and Centre for London, and President of the Property Litigation Association. She is also a Founder member and Chair of Real Estate Balance, set up to address the gender imbalance in the real estate sector. She is a member of the Mayor of London’s Homes for Londoners Board and until recently chaired the Government Property Agency. In 2017, Liz was appointed Chairman of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), and in 2018 she was appointed Chairman of the Sponsor Board for the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Programme.

So, now we are going to hear from Liz Peace on how she came to work in the property sector and no doubt with some key insight drawn from her portfolio of high-level real estate roles. Liz, welcome to the studio.

Liz Peace

Thank you, it’s nice to be here.

Susan Freeman

We’ve known each other a little while. I was thinking about this, I think I was probably one of the first people to meet you when you burst upon the property scene…

Liz Peace

I think it was January 2002 wasn’t it?  I came to the BPF conference in Brighton.

Susan Freeman

… it was definitely Brighton. I remember you looked round the room and asked me where all the women were.

Liz Peace

Indeed.

Susan Freeman

Let’s start just if you could tell us a little bit about your career up until then which wasn’t in real estate, it was in Government so, what had you been doing and what made you decide to take up the British Property Federation role?

Liz Peace

Yes, it’s always interesting, I think one tends to rewrite history in one’s own mind as well probably to make it sound more logical and ordered than it was but I had had a hugely fun and rewarding career in the Ministry of Defence but once I had had my children and I’d had a bit of a struggle with the MOD to persuade them that I could work part-time after I had had children, I saw an opportunity to work closer to home at Farnborough, the Royal Aerospace establishment, because we were actually setting up a new executive agency which subsequently became QinetiQ plc (QinetiQ with a Q) and this looked like an interesting opportunity, I had actually done some work on the whole sort of theory of executive agencies so I rang up the Chief Executive and said ooh, you know, have you got any openings here because it would really suit my personal circumstances and it sounds hugely exciting and he said he had, and we talked, and I went along and joined what became QinetiQ based at Farnborough which meant it was a whole lot easier for me to manage all my domestic commitments, although I had to work quite long hours at Farnborough even though I was technically part-time. Anyway, so I then spent a wonderful eleven years at Farnborough with what became QinetiQ and we were preparing privatisation of QinetiQ in 2013, I think that was ‘12/13 and I did a certain amount of that, I project managed the first half which was actually divorcing what was a research establishment from the Ministry of Defence but it was all getting a bit sort of financially based and looking at whether we were IPO-ing or whether we were going down the private equity route and the Finance Director wanted to take the lead on that which was quite logical and I thought, do you know I’ve done eleven years keeping my Chief Executive happy and keeping him out of trouble and we had by the way moved on to a non-MOD Chief Executive who didn’t know Government, happy to work with me because I could show him around Government, show him the pitfalls and the poo traps to avoid and I thought maybe it’s just about time I did something different. I had always been really interested in property and real estate, I had done a stint in the Defence Estates branch many years ago when I was a newly promoted Principal and I had really, really enjoyed that, did public enquiries, ended up in the Outer Hebrides defending the MOD’s plans to extend RAF Stornoway which we eventually won and then of course the MOD decided to close it subsequently when the Berlin Wall came down and peace broke out but I’d had my taste of planning, property, real estate generally. We got a big real estate portfolio within QinetiQ and we were looking at how to realise value from that and I saw this advert in The Times, Chief Executive of the British Property Federation so without doing a great deal of due diligence I applied and I actually got it and it was a great leap of faith and they, you know, took a punt I think on bringing somebody in who didn’t know directly about real estate but they worked on the assumption I knew about Government and I had got about 15,000 members indirectly who could tell me about real estate, whereas probably not a huge amount of people in the property industry who could talk about Government so I think they worked on the basis it was easier to do it that way round and appointed me. And that’s how it all started.

Susan Freeman

Well it was quite a leap of faith because not only were you coming from outside real estate and were very different from your predecessors but you were a woman so, I think it was quite something at the time. Do you think that the property industry benefitted from being represented by somebody who had come from outside the sector and could look at things more objectively?

Liz Peace

I think actually that was very, very useful. When you think about what it is the British Property Federation is there to do which is largely to represent the property industry to the people in Government or any other regulatory body that can do things for the property industry that massively affects our effectiveness so, I think actually having somebody who was sort of viewing the property industry from that perspective, from the public sector perspective, from agency perspective, Local Authority, it is actually very useful because, dare I say it, I think sometimes the property industry is fascinating but fascinatingly sort of monodirectional. The people in the property industry see what they want to do, they are extremely good at taking an investment, taking a piece of property, making it valuable, doing something with it. I think they sometimes, you know, don’t look at the other things that can actually affect that, that’s what they need to do. They also need to think about how others do perceive us and just sort of going into Government and saying we are the property industry, we are a great and essential part of the economy. Oh yeah, everybody says that. How do you really prove that to the people sitting in The Treasury?  How do you show them that we’ve got something big to contribute to GBA, to the economy as a whole?  So you’ve got to put yourselves in their shoes and if you’ve never been in Government, I think that’s quite difficult to do. I think also as you well know, you know, Governments change so rapidly, the people you are trying to influence both the civil servants and their ministers move with alarming rapidity so even though you have done it all once and you think you’ve got a group of people who really are beginning to get you and the industry, then suddenly they’ve all gone and you have to start all over again so it’s a bit like being on a treadmill.

Susan Freeman

Yes and there are so many positive messages and so many positives about, you know, what goes on in the real estate sector but we seem to be, you know, not so good at actually getting those positive messages across.

Liz Peace

Yes. I mean, I have a little bit of a theory about this because I think we made a lot of progress, well I like to think we made a lot of progress in my time at the BPF but then, you know, it still seems as though there is a huge amount to do and I think the problem is, it’s not something where you make that progress and you stop, you have to keep on doing it because the more progress you make, the more people have changing and more demanding expectations of your industry or new forces come in from elsewhere which sort of undermine what you’ve done so it is sort of never ending and you are always having to sort of push further and further on to get that better degree of understanding and appreciation of what we can do and getting the property industry also to respond to what other want you to do because this isn’t all one-way, you know, the property industry does have to change, it has changed but it needs to go on changing.

Susan Freeman

Yeah, and obviously the speed of change at the moment is a particular issue and Covid has brought a whole new layer of issues and just, you know, in terms of, you know, how the property industry is perceived if one looks at what happened at the start of lockdown, you know, where the retail landlords and the clashes with the occupier, you know, there didn’t seem to be much sympathy for the landlords, I mean they are running businesses as well.

Liz Peace

I think that’s been a really difficult one and I know the BPF have been trying very, very hard. It’s difficult to see what else they could have done I think to try and get that balance right. I mean this is a discussion I remember so well having exactly that with what was then HMCLG was in those days, I think it was GPLR or some amazing set of initials or something like that, but this was all over the issue of upward only rent reviews, you know, and we had retailers all complaining like mad about the iniquities of long leases with only five year breaks and upward only rent review clauses and actually trying to explain to Government, and they did get it eventually, they absolutely got it because they refused to legislate to ban upward only rent review clauses which is what the retailers wanted them to do, but explaining to them, this was indeed a contract the retailers entered into this because there were benefits in having this sort of agreement, a lot of them wanted longer leases and then suddenly to say oh well, the goings getting tough, we’ll back out of it, just, you know, wanting to break their half of the contract and what we said at the time and DTLR as then it was, absolutely got it was, yes of course we can give more flexibility to all tenants, not just retailers, but there is a price tag attached to it, you know, the more flexible your lease, the more expensive it’s going to be and Government, to their credit, absolutely got that, you know, they were totally with us on yes, fine, be flexible and we understand that obviously there will be a price tag attached to that flexibility and that’s what the retailers or the other tenants will have to pay but then of course Covid has now, well I think the whole business about retail added a certain layer to this whole debate and then Covid comes along and it’s been exceedingly difficult to get through to Government that there are two sides in this, you know, both of whom have bottom lines, both of whom have investors and they ought to be fairly treated.

Susan Freeman

Now, and I think that the fact that a lot of the property owners of funds and pension funds are ultimately, you know, it’s the man in the street that’s going to lose out.

Liz Peace

Yes, absolutely, yeah. I mean, I think all… this is another challenge with trying to present the property industry to Government, of course. We talk about The Property Industry but it’s about, you know, twenty, thirty separate industries because there are so many sort of different parts to it so the listed companies behave probably not dissimilarly to the institutions but they all behave very differently to private equity or to private companies and the property industry, like all industries, has its share of well, shall we say rogues, you know, there are people in the industry that probably never joined the BPF, in fact they… I am sure, I am sure they never did join the BPF but, you know, there are people out there who do not reflect well on our industry so I think we also have to accept that but every industry has its bad eggs.

Susan Freeman

This is true and as we’ve been discussing, we now have Covid which is being referred to as ‘The Great Accelerator’ and there is going to be a lot of change that comes out of that and the property industry hasn’t traditionally been good at dealing with change and I sort of wondered if you had any thoughts as to how, you know, how people are going to deal with, you know, with the change?  I mean, it’s difficult to know at this point in time exactly where the dial will end up but, you know, quite clearly we are not going to go back to where we were pre-lockdown.

Liz Peace

Well, no industry has a sort of divine right to exist or no company has a divine right to exist and, you know, I think in every industry, you know, as you see sort of major cyclical or economic change, there will be casualties and out of that will come new companies and new ways of doing things so we shouldn’t be afraid of change just as every other industry will have to adapt to that. There are a lot of very good, very flexible, very fleet of foot people in the property industry. I have just been reading up some of the articles in the latest Cambridge University Land Society magazine by an array of people that you would know and some really interesting perspectives on the organisations and companies that think they are going to be able to show that flexibility to adapt. I mean, the first problem is a short-term one and it’s all about debt and whether you can actually get over the next six to twelve months, whether you are going to run out cash and I think the property industry, certainly the bigger companies, the public companies, are in a reasonably good position, you know, I mean surprisingly they all survived the global financial crisis bar one and that wasn’t really anything to do with the actual sort of financials so I think going way back, back to the nineties, they’d sort of learnt their lesson in terms of debt and everything else so, I think they are in a reasonably good position to withstand the immediate problems and then I think you have the longer term challenge of how the industry is going to change and that’s where adaptability is going to be the, is going to be the key but as you rightly said, we don’t know where it’s going to settle. I mean, you can read one article about, you know, the death of the office, the death of central London and almost, you know, two pages on you can read another article saying oh ridiculous, it’ll all come back, people need offices, of course London will come back ultimately, having a bit of a rough time at the moment but it’s bound to come back. So who knows?  I mean the one thing we can be sure is, nobody does actually know at the moment.

Susan Freeman

Yes, that’s reassuring isn’t it. So, let’s talk a little bit about your portfolio career post-BPF and you have quite a diverse range of roles and I just wondered if you had any sort of tips for our listeners on how to manage, you know, a number of positions and has it been a learning curve and how has Covid affected the way you organise your role?

Liz Peace

Right gosh. A lot of questions in that. Well, a lot of people tend to ask me for advice about putting together a portfolio and I am probably the last person in the world to give advice because I’m sort of not very good at it because I’d rather let things evolve but then that’s possibly been the story of my career, you know, I sort of let things happen to me rather than actually go out and plan for them. Well I think the important thing to remember is that, you know, once you’ve gone portfolio you’ve sort of semi-retired, you know, I mean do things you want to do, you know, really, really important that you should enjoy doing what you do. Yeah, sure, every job has a bit of chore in it that, you know, you might not enjoy wading through audit committee papers sort of in the evening ready for the next day’s meeting and that sort of thing but generally, you know, make sure it’s a cause that you can espouse. I was also very keen to keep a balance between public and private because I think that’s actually something I’ve done in my career, having spent a long time in Government but then actually prepared a big chunk at the Ministry of Defence, the privatisation working with a Chief Executive from the private sector, then going out and representing a very entrepreneurial sector, you know, the property sector but making sure the lessons from each are passed over to the over is I think really important so actually I think people who have got experience of public and private, you know, are in a unique position to actually help both sides. My portfolio now reflects that so I do quite a lot of public institutions, I am not actually working for Central Government at the moment, I finished at the Government Property Agency at the beginning, well, the end of last year but I am working for the GLA on Old Oak and Park Royal and I work for the Houses of Parliament on the Restoration and Renewal Project and I do a few other things for the Mayor as well in London and then I have a whole range of private sector interests as well, two very small public companies, both very different but, well I find it quite interesting keeping one’s foot in the public market because, you know, the whole different set of requirements there, and then one private company and some other charitable things as well. So it’s an interesting balance and I think one can use that to everybody’s advantage, you know, I can bring experiences from both. How you actually manage it and in Covid?  Well, Covid initially was quite challenging because of course everybody saw this as a massive crisis – well, still is a big crisis but it was an unknown crisis, you know, how is it actually going to evolve and of course everybody wanted to have crisis meetings and emergency board meetings once a week and so on, so what one’s really got to the stage, one almost lives on Teams and Zoom and everything else. I think it sort of settled down a lot more now, people have worked out just where they need to be going, doesn’t mean it isn’t quite critical. Public sector was particularly interesting because of course initially, you know, the public sector is still funded, you sort of carry on as normal, then of course the realisation that this crisis is not going to go quickly and that public funding is going to be extremely challenging in the future and the Mayor of London has made no bones about how difficult his budgetary position is going to be for the next few years, you know, his move to The Crystal and all that to save money. So, both my public sector projects, you know, going to be quite challenging I think for the next few years.

Susan Freeman

Since you have mentioned the public sector projects, perhaps we can just talk a little bit about the Palace of Westminster Restoration programme so you Chair the Sponsor Board which is responsible for this restoration and I think it must be one of the biggest and most complicated heritage renovation projects. How have things changed since the original decision to re-house both Houses and move everybody out?  Has the thinking changed on that?

Liz Peace

Well, an awful lot has changed sort of in the circumstances around that because what happened was there was something called The Independent Options Appraisal which was conducted by Deloitte and a few others which led to a joint committee which led to a vote in the House ultimately in early 2018 which actually decided that the best option was total decamp. Interestingly, in the Commons, the vote was actually won by only 16 which is pretty small. The Lords didn’t actually vote on it once they saw the way the Commons went, they supported the Commons view. Since then we’ve had an election where the situation in the House has changed considerably, a huge number of new MPs and of course we have a Government with an 80 seat majority and then we have Covid and a number of MPs have said to me, you know, the numbers we are talking about to do this work, this is really difficult when we have constituents who are on the breadline, losing their jobs, businesses going out of business, you know, how are we actually going to justify this?  I think there is also, frankly, a feeling developing amongst a number of MPs that they’d really rather not have to get out completely. Now, at the moment, we just don’t know whether it would be feasible to do it in any other way than getting out completely but these uncertainties have actually led us to decide that now we’ve put our own delivery authority in place, we ought to just sit back and really look at the assumptions on which that original decision was based and give Parliament the opportunity to look at our conclusions and decide whether they want to support them or whether we should… they are keen for us to look at doing it in some other way. I’d have to say that, you know, initially at least looking at the evidence, it is going to be challenging to do it with MPs in situ even if you divide it into two halves, you know, there’s all manner of problems because the services, they serve the whole Palace, you know, it’s not these pipes and wires serve this bit of the Palace and these pipes and wires service the other, it’s all sort of very integrated so actually separating it in any way would be challenging but I think we’ve got to be just very mindful of the circumstances and I mean the Independent Options Appraisal that Deloitte did, it didn’t come up with firm costs, you couldn’t do that because it didn’t know enough about what the project would be, all it could do was give indicative costs and their indicative costs for the full decamp option was somewhere in the order of £3.7 billion. Now that’s a lot of money and I don’t think any of us delude ourselves that that’s the right number. It’s bound to be more than that so these are challenging problems and I think what we’ve got to look at is whether there is a real, whether there’s a minimum project we could do that still does enough because if you are going to be massively disruptive, you are going to sort of, you know, totally disrupt the way Parliament works, you want to do something that’s going to then last for another hundred years, you don’t want to have to do it all again in the thirty or forty years’ time. So, I think we’ve got some big challenges. We’ve got to assemble some sort of more evidence about options. We’ve got to take that back to the politicians and ask them what they want to do but the one point I would make is, everybody is agreed that we need to do something, you know, even the new MPs would rather not move out, you know, even the stalwart MPs who definitely don’t want to move out, they do agree we need to do something because the Palace of Westminster cannot carry on as it is, it needs fundamental renewal, fundamental restoration, it just hasn’t got the M&E systems that it needs to keep it safe and it isn’t accessible and I think it’s something like 16% of the Palace, or it might even be 12, can be reached by somebody in a wheelchair. It’s exceedingly difficult for people to navigate around.

Susan Freeman

So that’s going to be an interesting sort of work going on. And then one of your other projects that you mentioned is the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation which I think you’ve Chaired since 2017 and I think it’s the only place where HS2 meets Crossrail so…

Liz Peace

That’s right.

Susan Freeman

…an amazing opportunity to create a new community in West London. So I know originally the plan was to deliver 25,000 new homes but things have taken a slightly different track. What’s been happening there and…?

Liz Peace

Well, the plan is still ultimately to deliver 25,000 homes and I think just as significantly, 65,000 jobs because this isn’t just about a housing development. This is, well, we see this as the opportunity to create a whole new district of London and I think that might become quite sort of pertinent in the post-Covid world because a lot of people are talking about the need to have sort of district centres around London and not be quite so sort of focussed on having everything in the City or in the West End, you know, absolutely right in the centre. So, we had a plan. This involved a substantial piece of private sector land, I mean, I think one of the challenges with Old Oak and Park Royal is that we as a development corporation don’t actually own any land, there is public sector land there in the ownership of Network Rail, HS2 but no obviously we need their cooperation for that but there’s also a lot of privately owned land and the area that we thought would be ripe for the first stage of development, an area we called Old Oak North, had a very big private sector land owner, company called Car Giant, a very successful second-hand car processing business, initially they thought it would be feasible to move, then of course industrial land values in West London have shot up over the last few years and in fact land area is worth more for industrial than it is for residential at the moment so this skewed all the economics of that, it led to Car Giant withdrawing their agreement to support any development on their land which in turn led to a Planning Inspector turning down that element of our local plan. So we had to go back to the drawing board. We are now working on a new plan so we’ve moved away from the Car Giant land, we see that now remaining as industrial land and there’s actually a good case for sort of expanding and improving the quality of that industrial land and we are shifting our focus further to the west, we are still very close to where the HS2 station will be, so where HS2 meets Crossrail, and we are in the process of just putting together some possible plans using Network Rail land, HS2 land, so public sector land, there are some private owners in there as well but a large part of public sector land to get a first phase going but as with our Old Oak North plan, we still need some initial injection of funding to pay for infrastructure. It’s not quite as sort of infrastructure heavy in its demands as the Old Oak North site but we would still be talking about some hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment in infrastructure. Whatever we do there is going to need an initial injection of public sector funding and originally we had a Housing and Infrastructure Fund bid, a promise of money through the housing infrastructure fund, that fell away when we had our problems with the Local Plan, we are going to need to make an application to Central Government for something equivalent. We are hoping Central Government will announce something called the Single Housing Infrastructure Fund, a sort of son of HIF, SHIF as I think they call it, and we would you know be in the queue to apply for funds for that. I think it would be very difficult to do what we are trying to do at Old Oak without that initial injection of the funding. We’ve got a lot of private sector interest but the private sector will look at it and say, ah yes well you know tell us when you’ve got some sort of initial support, initial financial support, we’ll come in when some of the initial risk has been dealt with. That’s how the private works, you know, you can’t actually blame them for that but I guess that the point I would make is that Government is going to be spending upwards of a billion pounds on this site anyway building a station, I mean this is a pretty station if you look at the designs for this, you know, it is an interchange, interestingly not just for HS2 and Crossrail but also for the Great West lines as well, they will run through the same station so it is a huge interchange, if you simply have an interchange sitting in the middle of a largely industrial wasteland, that strikes me as a massive wasted regeneration opportunity and it would be a massive failure I think on the part of Government, you know, if they didn’t see this and realise that opportunity to create a small new town basically.

Susan Freeman

It sounds like a terrific opportunity and you were talking earlier about, you know, public/private sector collaboration and it sounds like somewhere where your skills with, you know, public sector, private sector, Government all come together and…

Liz Peace

Yes and I can make it sound easy but what I have discovered is, that it isn’t and you know, a number of sort of regeneration experts in the industry, you know, every time they meet me, they laugh at me and say ha, ha, told you it wasn’t easy didn’t we.

Susan Freeman

You just have to look at King’s Cross to get some idea of the 30.31

Liz Peace

Exactly. How long did that take?

Susan Freeman

When you start but I mean, it could be thirty years if you go back to Godfrey Bradman and the initial plans for King’s Cross.

Liz Peace

Yes. I mean, I get pilloried every time I appear in front of the London Assembly or their Budget and Performance Committee and say well you haven’t delivered yet, well, I’ve only been there, I’ve been there less than three years, the Corporation has only been there for five and there was a big period of hiatus in that while the new Mayor was actually reviewing whether he wanted to continue with this, so, you know, that is a pretty short time in terms of a major piece of regeneration and now we’ve got Covid to contend with.

Susan Freeman

Yes, well, we will watch this space, Liz. One of your other roles is as Chair of the Centre for London which describes itself as London’s dedicated thinktank and, you know, developing new solutions for London’s challenges and obviously challenges don’t come much bigger than the plan you have at the moment with Covid. How have Centre for London changed its strategy and how is it going to rise to the current challenge?

Liz Peace

Well, it’s interesting but sort of even before Covid, as of last year, we’d launched a whole new project which we call London Futures. Now, actually looking where we thought London ought to be going, you know, but in 2050 because we just didn’t think there were enough people around thinking about the future of the city and, I mean the city as a whole not just a corporation, it’s very easy I think within the GLA to get sort of subsumed in today’s problems you know and not have the time or the space or the bandwidth to actually be thinking about those longer term solutions. So we’ve actually raised a substantial amount of money, done a first phase in terms of sort of scoping out the work, looking at this whole debate about what needs to happen for London to preserve its primacy as A or THE leading world city, I like to think of it as THE leading world city. We can’t stand still, I mean this is the big problem with London, if we don’t think about solving some of its problems, it will get knocked off its top-notch here, you know we’ve got issues of transport, we’ve got issues of affordability, problems of social inclusion, problems of poverty, I mean there’s all manner of sort of different challenges which I think we, somebody, needs to be thinking about bigger picture, holistic solutions to these. That’s the sort of thing that the Centre for London wants to drive the debate on. We won’t have all the answers but at least we can get people talking about it and thinking about it. I mean I do think on this point about London, you know we’ve got to be very careful about London, we sort of take it for granted and I think Covid has sort of exposed some of its vulnerabilities, I mean the one that absolutely perturbs me most I think is the issue of transport, you know and until we can find a way of restoring confidence in a mass transport system and transit system, London cannot function. If everybody who used to go on a tube or a bus gets in their car, London will be completely gridlocked. In fact if just a small percentage of those get in their car, London will be completely gridlocked, it will not work as a city. You know, that’s going to be a massive challenge.

Susan Freeman

And one of your other roles is as a member of the London Mayor’s Homes for Londoners Board which obviously focusses on, you know, trying to provide housing for London which is something we have all been talking about for an awfully long time and it seems sort of quite difficult to make any headway but a point that often comes up is that, you know, relying on the private sector or affordable housing just somehow doesn’t work and that’s the case, you know, for a number of years and social housing does not seem to be something that the private sector can, you know, provide as well as the Local Authorities used to provide it sort of going back years. I mean, do you have any thoughts as to how we could change the system to make things work better?

Liz Peace

Well, I am one of those who absolutely believes in what you’ve just said. The private sector will not solve the problem because the housing need in London is not for the sort of things that the private sector can provide. You know, the bulk of the housing need is some element of subsidised housing so that sort of causes you to fall back on either the Housing Association world or indeed Local Authorities and what we’ve started to see in London is a trend toward Local Authorities doing some of their own build as funnily enough the Centre for London have produced a paper on this, must be a couple of years ago now, called The Borough Builders. Of course what we found was that the boroughs who all espoused the cause of yeah, let’s get out and build ourselves, are not doing enough, you know, it only scratches the surface. So, we have got to find a sensible investment model for the public sector here, whether they can do it with the private sector, institutions have shown a substantial interest of course in Housing Association stock because whilst it may be subsidised rents, it’s highly dependable rents so, you know, it can be made to work but I think we’ve got to look to a greater degree of creativity in how we can devise the sort of models, be it Housing Association world or the boroughs, actually do provision of the sort of affordable housing perhaps supported by elements of the private sector but he private sector can’t do it on their own so it’s an absolute classic where I think you do need the public and private sector working together and where we’ve got to be continually trying to look for new models. Nobody’s cracked it yet. You know, various interesting papers have popped over the years, I mean, I always find this quite sort of, well annoying really because there look to be some quite good solutions but then they seem to be sort of picked up, run with for a couple of months and then dropped and disappear and I was thinking in particular of a piece that, I think it was Race Publica did it a few year back and they actually maintain that by a significant Central Government investment in Council house building, you could generate an actually sort of funding model in perpetuity simply because of this issue of rising value and certainty of rent and, you know, there’s got to be some solutions in there somewhere for doing that but you are absolutely right, the private sector are not the people who are going to solve this, they are not necessarily building what the need is for in London and they are certainly not going to build it at the price people can afford.

Susan Freeman

It’s interesting, it may well be that, you know, what’s happening with Covid which seems to be leading some people to think well, do I want to live, you know, in a city or do I move out, get more money in the bank, it may help, you know, redress the balance a little bit because it’s been, you know, the London population has just been growing and growing and again it’s a question of, you know, we’ll see where we end up.

Liz Peace

Well that’s right because what you don’t want to do is to go back to that era when you know the centre of London was effectively being hollowed out and depopulated and suddenly it ceases to be the desirable, alive type of place that people want to be in so, you know, finding the happy medium but, yes, I am sure there are a number of people who will want to think seriously about their sort of lifestyle and living conditions and I think this has been something I am very keen to pursue at Old Oak. We’ve got to think about what the pandemic has taught us about how people want to live. Now, some people may still be perfectly happy living in high-rise but perhaps a little more focus on access to open space, access to play areas for the children, you know just making sure that we learn the lessons from Covid and that being cooped up in a small one-bedroomed flat without any of those things is probably not a particularly good idea, or not something we should be building for.

Susan Freeman

No, I hope we do learn the lessons but if you think back to the beginning of lockdown where there were no cars, there were no planes and everybody saying, you know, the air is so clear, we can see the stars but you know how quickly people get back to more sort of normal way of life and forget about that.

Liz Peace

Yes, definitely.

Susan Freeman

And, Liz, just to talk about something slightly different. You are a Founder of Real Estate Balance and now you Chair the Board and I think it was set up originally to address the gender imbalance in real estate, we touched upon, you know, at the beginning of this discussion. Do you feel that Real Estate Balance is making progress?  Do you feel that we need to be more sort of radical in the way we address the issues?  How do you see things?

Liz Peace

Well, as you rightly say, when we started Real Estate Balance – this was almost five years ago – our objective was to try and improve the number of women, and it was focussed entirely on gender and I make no sort of apology for that because I think you’ve got to start somewhere and gender is as good a place as any and if you adapt a company or if you change culture to support better gender diversity, it’s probably going to be a better culture for other forms of diversity but park that for a moment so, our objective was to try and get a better gender balance, not at Board level, sort of Hampton Alexander had taken care of that, but at the next layer down which is actually more difficult. You can solve gender balance on a Board simply by hiring in non-execs so it’s cheating a bit but actually getting them into the executive level of organisations so I think it tends to be referred to as the C-suite, you know, but actually getting people at that level, that’s the key. But the trouble is, you can’t just magic potential promotees out of nowhere to put into that level, you’ve got to have a pool of talent so if you haven’t got the sort of talent at middle management, you haven’t got a balanced number of men and women in middle management then you are never going to succeed in changing the balance at the senior executive level. So that actually means making sure you recruit in a balanced way and that you keep people and you know the more we talked around the industry, a lot of the problem was actually hanging onto people so then you actually start to ask well why do the women you recruit leave?  Because actually there are a lot of young women around in the industry now and you look at some of the events that have been run very much for gender diversity or on gender diversity issues, huge number of women in the room, where do they go and what is it that drives them out?  Now for some it is childcare issues and, you know, I am worrying deeply that Covid is going to have exacerbated that problem but actually what we did discover in talking to people, it’s much more about the culture of organisations so women can’t be bothered with the sort of the presenteeism, having to be seen to be there drinking with the boss at 8 o’clock at night when you are entertaining clients, you know just cultural things about how women want to work and behave differently to men. So, we have been very focussed on how you change the culture in organisations and we started from the top by getting CEOs on side to what we do. Mostly male CEOs of course because that’s what we’ve mostly got in the industry barring a few notable exceptions and we have some terrific champions, you know there are a large number of that male CEO population who really, really, genuinely, sincerely believe in this and we think we’ve got them on side. The next challenge is how you get it permeating down into the organisation and I think our next challenge is going to be trying to engage with more of those middle management people, both men and women because it’s no good only talking to the women, you know if there are a lot of men in middle management, they’ve got to understand what you are trying to do as well so that you get this better balanced approach. So, we’ve offered the chief executives you know lots of aids, lots of support, our toolkit, we have something called the CEO Commitments, we ask all our member CEOs to sign up to this and they now must be two or three years old and we are looking at… as a result of prompting from some of the CEOs I might add, we are looking at toughening them up. Okay, you can tick all those ten, let’s move onto a more rigorous ten. And then I am also keen now to start a much bigger dialogue at this middle management level in companies to look at what actually need to happen in terms of cultural modernisation to make sure we get a better balanced workforce but the other issue now of course is people are saying well gender is just only one thing, diversity is much broader than that and particularly after the whole sort of Black Lives Matter, you know really brought this to the fore. The thing we have to be very careful about, assuming we understand what the causation is for the lack of people of colour in the property industry. My concern there is that that goes even further back than it does with the gender issue because you are not getting the recruits in, in the first place, we’ve got a lot of female recruits, we do not have a lot of BAME recruits into the property industry at grad level and there I think it’s more of a challenge about changing the nature of the people who come into property and there are some good campaigns at changing the face of property pathways to property looking at this, bigger than what we can do in Real Estate Balance but we are keen to work with them and support so I think that’s more a sort of community and social thing, you’ve got to get into schools, you’ve got to get into communities, you’ve got to get to the parents, you know who’ll say ooh, have you thought of doing X you know and until you can start doing that, we are not going to fundamentally alter the nature of the people joining our industry.

Susan Freeman

And I mean it’s interesting, as far as you know gender and women in real estate are concerned, I often hear, usually from my male colleagues, that it’s a question you know women aren’t confident enough, I mean do you see that?

Liz Peace

I, yeah, I mean I do a little bit of mentoring both within Real Estate Balance and for others and I think you do, I mean women are incredibly realistic about what they can do and pragmatic and you know when somebody says to them can you do this or would you be able to do this job if I gave it to, they’ll probably be honest and say ooh I’m not sure whereas a bloke will say yeah, no problem, you know whether they know how to do it or not. That’s incredibly stereotyping, you know and that’s what everybody… but I think there is an element of that, I think women are a lot more reluctant to blow their own trumpets than men so I think there is an element if you want to help women, you need to support the women through mentoring, through networking, we do some of that but there’s also a lot of other organisations that do that and there’s no point duplicating that, you know things like Women in Property you know do a huge amount of sort encouraging of those women at the grassroots level, at the entry level, helping them form networks, helping them find sort of friends. I would say to women who ask me for advice, find a champion and it could be a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter but you know find people who you know you can talk to and will help you, not give you a leg up that sounds too much like favouritism but you know at least be there to encourage you when you have those moments of doubt.

Susan Freeman

Yeah, I think that’s good advice and when you sort of look around the real estate industry now, you know compare it to what you saw when you came to that first conference in Brighton, are you pleased with the progress we’ve made in terms of getting more women into the industry?

Liz Peace

It is getting better, there’s no doubt about that, I mean I came from a very male environment anyway so the fact that I was shocked when I walked into the property industry probably does really say something about the property industry but I sort of was used to it and so I’ve never been intimidated by being the only woman in a meeting room full of men, in fact I always found it quite advantageous because people tended to remember you but they wouldn’t remember one of the twenty other men in the room. I think it is a lot better but you do still go to meetings where you know there may only be one other woman in the room, even on Zoom so I think we’ve still got quite a long way to go in the industry. I mean how many times have you been to a dinner say when you know it will be a table of ten or twelve and you’ve been the only woman on that table and I can remember a few years back now we ran a charity dinner, we were supporting Dame Fiona Woolf who was the Lord Mayor of London at the time, Female Leaders in Property event we called it and we had a stellar line-up of speakers and we decided that we had tables of ten and we would make sure we had two men on each table and, you know, so invitations were sent out, people approached their friends and it was extraordinary one or two blokes said ooh no, I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to be the only man or one or two men on a table of women and of course we all fell about laughing and said well, welcome to our world, you know. Quite extraordinary how a man could be put off by that.

Susan Freeman

And actually it was a pretty, it was an amazing event and I do seem to remember that it ended up being a sort of auction war between two of the men in the room.

Liz Peace

Well, in order to raise as much money as possible, we reckoned that having a few sort of alpha males strategically positioned in the bidding, you know, that that would lead to some good bidding wars, which it duly did and we raised a huge amount of money.

Susan Freeman

It was a really good event. And just sort of take you a little bit further, it’s fashionable to claim that Covid has shown that women leaders, so you know Government leaders, are better in a crisis. Do you think there’s any substance to that?

Liz Peace

Ah, it’s a really difficult one isn’t it?  It’s the… ultimately, it’s got to be about it being the type, you know the how good is the woman?  Or the man, for that matter. I mean it does seem a, you know extraordinary coincidence that Jacinda Ardern has done so well, Angela Merkel, interestingly in Australia one of the state governors is a lady, Gladys that’s right, I can’t remember her surname it’s unpronounceable you know, she is reckoned to have done better than all the other state premiers. I don’t know. I just genuinely do not know, you know, I am sure sort of occupational Psychologists and whatever you know will be writing reams on this in the future. It certainly helps I think if you have a leader who can clearly show empathy with those people who are struggling or suffering, which is where I think Jacinda Ardern has done so well. I think there is also a tendency sometimes for males to assume that they have the answer whereas a woman will, you know and in this crisis nobody has the answer unfortunately and therefore it may be suits a more female approach to things than sort of saying mmm yes, well hang on, we don’t know. When you are in sort of normal business times, the hang on we don’t know can be the difference between winning a deal or not so maybe the woman point of view doesn’t do so well there whereas here caution leads to a better outcome. It’s, I really, really don’t know. I have known brilliant female leaders and brilliant male leaders. I have also known awful female leaders and awful male leaders. And there’s plenty of each on either side, and plenty of good ones.

Susan Freeman

I think that’s a fair assessment, Liz. So, thank you very much. It’s been really great to talk to you and thank you for everything that you’ve done for the real estate industry since you took us by storm in 2002.

Liz Peace

It’s very nice of you to describe it like that and I hope I made a little bit of difference in getting the people who matter to actually look differently at our industry and see it for what it is actually capable of delivering which is a huge amount.

Susan Freeman

Exactly. You can’t do much more than that. So, thank you very much.

Liz Peace

Okay, right. Thank you.

Susan Freeman

Thank you so much to Liz Peace for giving us the benefit of more than 35 years’ experience working at senior level in Government and in the property sector. There were some really valuable insights there.

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, Prop Tech and the built environment.

Liz was Chief Executive of the British Property Federation for thirteen years until her retirement in 2014. She was awarded a CBE in 2008 for services to the property industry.

Liz now has a portfolio career with a range of non-executive, advisory and charity roles, at Howard de Walden Estates, RPS Group, RDI REIT, Holtby Turner, the Churches Conservation Trust, Connected Places Catapult and The Whiteley Homes Trust. She is Chairman of Real Estate Balance, President of the Property Litigation Association, and a member of the Mayor of London’s Homes for Londoners Board. In 2017 Liz was appointed Chairman of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) and in 2018 appointed Chairman of the Sponsor Board for the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Programme.
 

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