Propertyshe podcast: Jackie Sadek Founder and COO of UK Regeneration (UKR)

Posted on 28 June 2021

If people were prepared to work that way round, I think we could instil more trust in the country towards our industry but at the moment, if people are riding roughshod over communities, every time that happens, every time anybody gets a housing application through on appeal, shall we say, that does the rest of us, who are trying to behave well, a real disservice. 

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 the key influencers in the wonderful world of real estate and the built environment.  Today I am delighted to welcome Jackie Sadek.  Jackie has over thirty years’ experience in property, specialising in public/private sector partnerships.  From 2014 to 2016 she was Specialist Advisor to Government on urban regeneration.  Jackie is the Founder and COO of UK Regeneration, developing new models of housing delivery, currently bringing forward 1500 homes in a garden settlement in Bedfordshire.  She was a member of the Grimsey Review team on the future of the high street, reporting in 2013, 2018 and 2020 and was on the judging panel of the MHCLG Great British High Street Awards 2019.  She is co-author of Broken Homes on the housing crisis with former Estates Gazette Editor, Peter Bill, published October 2020 and is a regular columnist for the EG.  And now we are going to hear from Jackie Sadek about three decades in UK regeneration. 

Jackie welcome, and thank you for joining me today and it’s great to have the opportunity to have a chat because I think that we first met over twenty years ago in New York as part of Pat Brown’s unforgettable study trip to look at business improvement districts and to see if they would translate to the UK.  So, lovely to be talking to you. 

Jackie Sadek

Well, thank you Susan, it’s lovely to be with you and I do remember that trip very well. 

Susan Freeman

Who could forget it?  It was quite remarkable and obviously, you know, shortly after that trip, we did succeed in bringing bids to the UK and they, you know, they’ve really taken off and I have to say I wonder and it would be interesting to have your views on whether bids could be an important part of regenerating high streets because I know you were involved in the, a number of the Grimsey reviews.  So, could we actually have a super-charged bid that could really help bring business and Local Authorities and people together?

Jackie Sadek

Well, I think we could, I mean just to go back to the New York trip which was in the year 2000 so, a year before 9/11 and it was a seminal trip I think and all of us who were on it, will never forget it and we are all still, I think still feeling the reach of it, you know, over twenty years later, it was a very, very important turning point in think in our thinking on town centre regeneration and about two and a half years ago now I spoke at the British Bids conference and I was speaking to 400 business improvement districts, I mean, which is, you know, this is one hell of a movement we started here, you know, and you know we did struggle, you will remember how hard it was to get the first ones off the ground and we still struggle in a funny sort of way with business improvement districts because of course you’ve got the unresolved issue with business rates in high streets which frankly is a disgrace and I think, you know, if the Government could just sort themselves out on business rates, we’d be in such a better place.  Then, of course, in the last year, year and a half now, we’ve had the moratorium on rents and that’s been a bit of an issue as well and again, you know, real, a real problem there and I think the received wisdom is, you know, Government sort out the rates and we as an industry will sort out the rents.  But to go to your thesis about a super-charged bid, well absolutely, I mean the way we are going to be handling the town centre regeneration going forward, will need all the players, you know, the operators in any town centre, the investors in any town centre, as you say, the Local Authorities and public sector are very, very important but the two things that I think Bill Grimsey has said and I was involved in all three of his reviews, the one in 2013, the one 2019 both incredibly well received and the first time ever I think since Pat took us out to New York that we’ve had a market facing approach to this work rather than a wringing of hands but in Bill’s reviews, 2013, 2019 and then the last one which was of course his Covid response in June 2020, his central thesis is, and something that I have absolutely bought into and everywhere I go, I test it out and it’s the truth but if you only do two things then the two things must be number one, identify a leader for the work, somebody who can thump the table and to whom everybody is going to report, and number two, have one plan, one coherent plan.  If, you know, and this goes to your thing about the super-charged bid, if we end up with a bunch of super-charged bids where everybody’s fighting like a rat, like rats in a sack, then we’ll fail.  So, they’ve got to be super-charged bids by consensus and we’ve got work to do on the structure of how they would work fiscally, you know, and how they would work in terms of financing and I think it’s got to be a little bit more than the old additionality thing that we had back in 2000 and indeed ever since in bids, but if we can get to that point, if we could find a few exemplars, Susan, I really do think the legacy of our work started in 2000 would be secured and, you know, how marvellous would that be.  We’ve got a way to go on town centre regeneration and as you know, the pandemic has really only accelerated the trend that was already there and therefore we have to go back to first principles that every town centre is about an exchange, it’s about a community hub, if you’ve got retail you hang on to it but actually what you really ought to be doing also is looking for community uses that aren’t necessarily predicated on retail so we think about health uses, education uses, arts uses, cultural uses, you know, anything that brings people in to a centre, to use community facilities and only – and I will shut up in a minute Susan I promise – and only accelerated further by all the thinking about the 15 minute community. 

Susan Freeman

Yeah, I think you are absolutely right and, you know, now is the time for a bit of a reset and I think if we could get a few more property owner bids coming through, that would also be good because I know when we went to New York and we saw the property owner bids there, it seemed to make sense but we won’t go into the reasons why we didn’t get them in the UK initially.  So, Jackie, you describe yourself as a market disrupter.  What do you mean by that?

Jackie Sadek

Sometimes I am so hubristic, I might just, you know, spontaneously combust.  I think I’ve always been a market critic so, all of my career and I’m now a very old and curmudgeonly woman but all my career, which is now nearly four decades, I have spent the entire time banging the drum for communities but in my view, the expert in any community, in any place, so the community that live there, the people who live there are the experts in their place and I’ve not ever really waivered from that, if I’m going to be honest.  I started my career at the London Docklands Development Corporation before Canary Wharf was even a hole in the ground, that’s how old I am, and I then went and got my first job in the property industry, having been at a development corporation of course I had a good old flavour of how property was working and certainly watching the machinations over getting Canary off and away was fascinating, but my first real job in the mainstream industry was with Stuart Lipton at Stanhope and I was brought in to be his Community Relations Manager and given a lot of autonomy and a very far reaching brief but what was interesting at the time, Susan, you know, and again this is something I know that’s dear to your heart, and I don’t say this in any criticism of Stuart because, you know, he has totally and utterly evolved over the last four decades but of all the people that worked for Stanhope, all the men were managers and all the women were secretaries except for me and I was the Community Relations Manager so I did a sort of soft girls thing and there was always a bit of a kind of tension about the fact that we needed to feminise really I suppose and that has been another recurring theme of my career, you know, and I have to say, I mean, you know, all the property development companies were the same at the time, I’m not criticising Stuart and Stuart has in recent years, said some really luminous things about inclusion and diversity so I’m not pointing a finger, I am just saying that is how the world was in those days and you remember those days, Susan, and they weren’t easy. 

Susan Freeman

No, and when was that, just to sort of put in its time?

Jackie Sadek

I started working for Stanhope on the 25 July 1988, so there you have it, and you know, it was a really, really pivotal point in my career and I’d met Stuart by accident actually, I’d met him, I’d applied for a job for which I was wholly inappropriate at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, I had bought a house in Canning Town and I needed to pay the mortgage and my fixed term contract at the London Docklands Development Corporation was coming to an end so I was applying frantically for jobs left, right and centre and I went for this job at the Whitechapel Art Gallery as Development Director, I mean, wholly inappropriate, what did I know about the Arts but you know, you’re young, you know, you don’t trouble yourself with the, you know, greatly with worrying about your, you know, whether you can do a job, you just apply.  Anyway, cut a long story short, Stuart was chairing the interview panel because of course of his life-long interest in the Arts.  I didn’t get the job at the Whitechapel Art Gallery but I did get a call from his head-hunter the very next day so, I must have said some quite interesting things.  In fact, I do remember at one point him saying to me, as a part of the interview, “Why aren’t the people in Docklands getting jobs in Docklands then?” there was a big old issue at the time and there were a lot of billboards put up in London which read “Traffic jam for the…” sorry, “Jam for the developers.  Traffic jams for us” and there was a big old scandal about the fact that East End people weren’t getting the new jobs and I was trying to change that and sort that out and I must have given him quite a good answer, I guess, because, you know, he was clearly, well impressed enough to get his head-hunter to call me and then of course at that time he was trying to redevelop the Royal Docks and of course the issue about getting local people into work in the Royal Docks would have been an important one.  We never actually did the Royal Docks but I did end up working on Chiswick Park, Stockley Park, King’s Cross, Broadgate, all his big seminal developments and I mean, I used to say he taught me all I knew, that can’t be right because I’ve not worked for him for several decades since but he certainly did begin my real education in urban development, it was a really, really fantastic job and I was with him for five years and they were great years, it was a great party to be at. 

Susan Freeman

Yeah, it must have been really interesting to sort of see private sector developers, you know, in action because you’ve also got some massive public sector experience so, amazing to have them.  So, I think we’ll… maybe we’ll get back to the feminisation of the real estate sector further along in the discussion but let’s just talk a little bit about what you’re doing at UK Regeneration and, you know, what the vision is and I know you talk about things differently there, how are you doing things differently?

Jackie Sadek

Well, the UK, our story is a long and kind of twisted one really I suppose but it had been a hell of a journey to be on.  I used to be, well in sort of 2008, 2009, 2010 I was the chair of something that I’d been involved in for many, many years called the British Urban Regeneration Association, BURA it was known as, the acronym and is still very fondly thought of by many in the industry, and it was a twenty year old organisation which had been formed, again, in the same sort of time that I had been working for Stuart and of course we get to the 2010 general election and you will remember the bottom falling out of urban regeneration so all the organisations that were in membership with us, so the URCs, the UDCs, the HMRs, the NDCs, I mean an awful lot of triple letter acronyms of organisations out there who were all our members and who were all being wiped out by the new Government, the new coalition Government, and the writing was on the wall really and we could see it and in a funny sort of way, that correction sort of had to happen, we were littered very sclerotic apparatus in urban regeneration so, I remember speaking at a meeting with all the URC chief executives, Urban Regeneration Company chief executives, and there were 35 of them in the room, all men actually I have to say except for one, and behind each of those 35 people was another 35 people who were going to be put out of work so it was a huge industry of, you know, there was a kind of middle layer of folk who were marking people’s homework I suppose and not actually adding a huge amount of value I don’t think and those organisations were all going, my membership was falling away and it became quite clear, general election happened in April didn’t it, 2010, but by September it was quite clear we were going to have to fold BURA, we weren’t viable and so we held the… and I never want to do another voluntary liquidation, I mean it was awful really, and of course an awful lot of people were very fond of the organisation, you know, I got Peers of the Realm and MPs calling me up and saying “Oh surely something can be done” and of course, you know, it had had its time.  Anyway, we collapsed the meeting on the Monday, the EGM and the creditor’s meeting, and on the Tuesday we held a meeting of a whole bunch of stakeholders who basically said to us, “Look, you’ve got a lot of institutional memory here.  You hold the space between the public sector and the private sector and the third sector and that’s very precious, that interstitial space is very precious, and you really ought to hang onto it.”  And so, if you look at the UKR logo, you will see I started UKR literally, literally cut, I’m so untechy, I literally cut and pasted the acronym so that it read UKR.  At one point, I was going to have the British Retail, no the British Regeneration Association and then I realised what the acronym was going to be.  I went for UKR in the end but it was because I couldn’t, I was happy to keep hold of the baton but I wasn’t going to have a row about what it was going to be called or what the logo looked like or anything like that so I just got on and did something and then loads of people came with me on the journey and we ended up with a sort of open sourced type portfolio whereby people could access information from one another and that worked quite well but we looked around and thought well how are we going to, you know, fund this, where’s the income stream?  We quickly realised there wasn’t really.  Any membership organisations, you know, they were a thing of the past really in terms of this space.  Events organisations or events markets is very overcrowded as you know.  We did run events and we were running events right up until the pandemic but we quickly realised that we couldn’t charge for them.  If you charge for them, less interesting people turned up, frankly, and what we wanted to do was have kind of blue skies debates about things so, what we ended up doing was, yeah, you know, once a month we’d have a breakfast, we’d get a friendly company like your own, to field us a room and a bit of breakfast, bit of bacon roll and what have you and a bit of coffee, and we’d have a debate about whatever it was, you know, it could be diversity and inclusion, we did the Grimsey Review when he first started out, we did a lot on build to rent, we did, you know, all sorts of subjects.  So we kept the kind of spirit of BURA going but it quickly became quite clear that actually what we ought to do is go out and find a worked example and prove what it was we were pushing which was if you work with your local community, you are going to get a better result, if you want to bring forward a development that’s really going to last and be sustainable then you’ve got to do it in partnership with your host Local Authority and I’ve discovered in Biggleswade where we are now working, with our host town council and the more local, localist your response can be, the better, the more you can get right down to the very ground level of how you deal with a community, the better the result you will get and actually, all the principles of clean, green, inclusive growth.  We are now basically a worked example of that in Biggleswade, to the east of the existing market town.  In the course of our work of bringing forward a site there, and it’s a big site, we’ve got a consent for 1500 homes but in the course of all of that, we are also working with the town council on the regeneration of the town centre, we are working with the town council and with the planning authority on a sustainable transport corridor for Biggleswade, just try and encourage people to not use their car at every point, we are working on a massive biodiversity strategy for the entirety of Biggleswade and we are contributing massively to the Government’s thinking on the Oxford-Cambridge Arc so, you know, we are kind of out there trying to practice what we preach now, Susan so, when I say market disrupter, I don’t want to sound like I’m running around the country with a grenade in my hand but I do think we can do things differently and better if we just take a more long-term and systemic view towards our communities, rather than the old STRAP land or promoter model. 

Susan Freeman

So, how far have you got with the development and how are you funding it, bearing in mind, you know, what you said about the issues of financing the organisation originally?

Jackie Sadek

Well, we had a couple of false starts on developments.  We started in 2011, 2012 and we tried to do five acres of inner city land, gash land really in Nottingham and then we tried to do another site in Derby which was eight acres of inner city land because we are the regeneration practitioner so that’s we kind of understood.  We couldn’t get either of those funded.  We actually had three sites in Sheffield, none of which we could get funded, not even by Government actually.  We couldn’t make them work and then I discovered this site in East Bedfordshire on the edge of Biggleswade, completely by accident I might tell you – that’s another story for another day but I, you know, it was a real, one of these happened chances, you know, serendipitous series of accidents, including I might tell you a cat, there was a cat involved in the story but, you know, I won’t start all that now, that’s one for a glass of wine – I found the site and I thought it was 700 acres, we ended up buying an adjacent site as well so it ended up as being 960 acres so, rather a different mindset really from 5 acres of Nottingham to 960 acres, 5 acres of brownfield land in Nottingham versus 960 acres of greenfield land in East Bedfordshire.  Different mindset altogether but I rang my business partner and said look I’ve… rather than doing some urban infill, what about an urban extension?  Actually, I’ve ended up doing a rural extension but that’s another nuance for another day as well.  What do you think about?  And he, he’s a great visionary and he doesn’t come from the property industry, he said, “Oh” he said, “well I’ve been waiting for a call like this” he said, “We have to really turn all our thinking on its head” and blow me down, well I discovered the site in November 2015, we’d exchanged and completed on it by the end of February 2016, we got it funded almost miraculously in days because it was such a kind of clear proposition, it wasn’t beset with anxieties and difficulties, it was Grade 3 agricultural land which in the right circumstances could go for development, it had no allocation in the Local Plan so people were, our funders were taking a punt on the fact that my judgement was that some or all of it would be allocated in the future.  And we lucked out again, I mean I lucked out when I bought the site, I also lucked out by buying it in the middle of the host authority engaged in a call for sites so they were already looking for new housing land and we submitted, I mean I got a whole battery of ex-civil servants at my back, all of whom were doing stuff pro bono for me and we submitted an incredibly compliant bid under call for sites in April 2016, by the time we got round to January 2017 we were in what’s called Reggae Team, the Reggae Team stage of plan forming so we were already, not the whole site about a fifth of it, and then we basically just worked up an application against the fact that we were in the draft emerging plan, actually there still is no local plan but we got the site consented that the portion that had been allocated or the draft of allocation, we got that consented in February 2019 so, in the space of three years, we’d bought the site, we’d got it allocated or draft allocated and we’d got a consent on it and we did all of that by working bottom up with the community and earning trust. 

Susan Freeman

And that’s what I was going to ask you about that because we’ve just had the Chesham and Amersham by-election and, you know, clearly there are concerns amongst local communities about housebuilding in their areas and you have somehow managed to take the community with you, I mean, how have you built those alliances with the local community and, you know, how do they trust you when they don’t trust other developers that they won’t sort of rape and pillage their local area?

Jackie Sadek

Well, it’s a great question and there is no short answer for this, it’s been painstaking work and I have to say and it goes back to my thesis that you have to start at the very most local level.  The work we’ve done in the main was far more with Biggleswade Town Council than it was with the Planning Authority, Central Bedfordshire Council.  Obviously we’ve worked really hard with Central Bedfordshire Council but we’ve put a lot of time and effort into our relationship on the ground.  It helps that we have a very visionary Mayor of Biggleswade, the Leader of the Town Council, is a very experienced local Government politician and she, I mean she’s fabulous really, and she basically realised and has made speeches I might tell you, to this effect, I mean very brave actually, she basically got up at the examination in public, CBC’s examination in public had said look, we can see the growth coming, you know, like a juggernaut down the A1, we’re on the edge of the A1, down the A1 at us like the proverbial wagon coming down, you know, and we can see it coming because we are in the middle of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and we’re ripe for growth.  She said we either do it with people we trust who are prepared to put infrastructure in up front and prepared to adhere to quality standards, who are committed to a biodiversity strategy, who want to work with us in partnership, who are prepared to have a fair, open, respectful relationship with us, we’d rather do it that way and have clean, green, inclusive growth to the east of Bedfordshire than anything else.  Now this was quite a departure because of course, I mean let’s be honest Middle England is a NIMBY culture and she was brave but also the town council had never supported any other development, there was a huge amount of development that had already taken place in the east of Bedfordshire without their support and they weren’t comfortable with it all.  They weren’t supporting other sites, there’s a big site to the north of Biggleswade, they weren’t supporting.  They not only supported my application for the site that was in the draft plan, they actually supported us getting an allocation for the entire site so, I’ve got another four, three or four times again land mass to get allocated and I have their support in getting that allocated because they think, and I’ve got to make sure that this trust is repaid, they think that we will do it properly. 

Susan Freeman

So, the trust word is, you know, is pretty key and I mean you have recently co-authored a book, Broken Homes, with Peter Bill and I mean I don’t need to ask what prompted you to write it because we have been talking about the housing crisis for, you know, getting on for five decades now but, you know, with the experience that you’ve had, you know, throughout your career and now actually, you know, on the grounds with development, what are the answers or is there no answer to it, I mean, I don’t know how we can still call it a crisis because it’s been going on so long, I mean, can you still call it a crisis but what are developers doing wrong and does it get back to not being able to create trust with the Local Authorities?

Jackie Sadek

Yeah, I think you’ve just answered your own question, I think there is no trust, you know, why is the planning system so onerous?   Well it’s so onerous because, you know, Local Authorities have got to protect their places and their communities and actually, you know, an awful lot of our colleagues in our industry don’t behave terribly well and, you know, I’m sorry but that’s the truth and, you know, I don’t care how many people get cross with me about this but quite a lot of people do not behave very well and do not behave in any kind of, do not communicate any kind of long-term commitment to what it is they are doing and, you know, Peter, Bill and I were, you know, we’ve always been called the Odd Couple actually, we were wringing our hands one day at lunch, as you do in the Reform Club – Peter’s a member I hasten to add, not me – and we were, you know, we were bemoaning the fact that exactly what you just said Susan, number one you know how can you call it a crisis if it has been going on for ten years or more, or actually quite a lot more, number two, you know, why is both the Government and the industry pedalling all these convenient untruths about it all, you know, I mean it’s the idea that volume housebuilders are in the business of housing the nation is just risible, you know, so we were wringing our hands about all of this and we were an interesting couple to write a book like this because of course he is a trained QS, he has had his first job actually with Wimpey Homes and then of course he became the Editor of the Estates Gazette and he’s an analyst by training, you know he does number crunching and he thinks about how things work and he analyses things, you see I don’t, I’m not really an analyst at all, I’m a sort of visceral kind of just kind of stream of consciousness really and I was out there trying to do it on the ground so we were actually very, very good combination and there was him all cerebral and analytical and there was me all emotional and kind of you know, this is how it works out there, and you know what we came up with was, you know number one it is incredibly hard, number two there are no magic… I mean there are no magic bullets at all, number three don’t knock volume housebuilders, you know, who have their place in all of this and don’t knock housing associations who have their place in all of this but do not think that the two of these combined are the answer, there’s a huge gap and so therefore we came upon this thing, hugely supported by Knight Frank I might tell you and the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission of this thing about the stewarded model, you know, that you would put new settlements onto large landholdings, a bit like we have done in East Biggleswade, whether it was on Local Authority land or Homes England land or dare is say, landed gentry land or knackered old farms, whatever it is that you brought forward this stewarded model which was basically a long-term play of people working together in partnership for the right outcome for the place and that’s the best answer we can find but it isn’t, you know, as I say there are no silver bullets and, you know, some of the stuff that goes on in Government, you know, you despair really and you mentioned the Chesham and Amersham by-election, well you know, William Hague’s just written a piece in The Times saying he thinks that the planning, you know, the Government’s planning reforms could be Boris Johnson’s poll tax, well, you know we all know that the planning system isn’t perfect but unless you are going to do it properly, don’t keep tinkering with it because actually, a cynic would say it’s a lot easier to announce planning reform than it is to find the funding for 70,000 social housing units, you know, social housing homes that we are short of in this country each year so, you know, there’s a kind of thing that happens in Whitehall and I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it and I’ve seen it, you know, whereby if you announce, you know, a reform package or a commission or a bidding round, you don’t actually have to do anything. 

Susan Freeman

So, you do know a little bit about this Jackie don’t you because you have had your stint advising Government on regeneration so, would you say that the main fault is political, that politicians are looking for short-term fixes, whereas, you know, to do this properly, it takes a long-term, as you say, stewarded approach?

Jackie Sadek

Well, I did, as you say, I did three years in Government, working for Greg Clark, first when he was Minister of the Cities and then when he was Minister for Cities and Universities and Devolution so, I went from Cabinet Office to Beis to CLG with him.  He became Secretary of State for Communities Local Government and I have to say, it was the best three years of my life really, I loved the job, I loved it, I loved running around in Whitehall telling people what to do and I had got this wonderful job title which was Policy Advisor, Urban Regeneration which was exactly the same job title as Michael Heseltine had, I mean, can you imagine, how marvellous is that, you are sitting in the next office from your lifelong idol, anyway so that was great fun working with Greg and working with Lord H, couldn’t have been any better.  And of course there’s always an urge for short-term fixes, of course there is, there is in the private sector, you know, if something’s easy, you’ll grab at it won’t you but, you know, I have to say, planning reform is never going to be an easy, it’s never going to be an easy ask, we’re seeing that played out in the press as we speak.  To be honest with you, and I would say this because I’m loyal to Greg, the national planning policy framework of 2011 which he wrote with John Rhodes, was actually a really fine series of planning reforms which brought down planning guidance from something like a 1004 pages to something like 52 pages so it totally streamlined the whole thing but I will say this and it’s slightly, this is slightly too big a claim but you’ll get the gist, if we’d ever properly implemented those planning reforms, we might not need new planning reforms so, what happened with the NPPF is we, you know, we published it and it got but we still haven’t implemented it properly so, half of England isn’t covered by a local plan for whatever reason, including the bit that I’m in, you know, with my development and of course that’s a five year story as to why we haven’t got a local plan but if you’d ever properly implemented that 2011 NPPF with the local plan process and the duty to cooperate, you know, and the general power of competence then I think you wouldn’t perhaps need new planning reforms and certainly the ones that are on the table at the moment which I believe are now going to get watered down because the Government’s had a drubbing at Chesham and Amersham, the ones that are on the table now are pretty well predicated on zoning and the zoning isn’t properly thought through and we haven’t taken enough lessons from other countries where zoning works so, there’s a whole package there.  I think the more profound anxiety we have out of Chesham and Amersham if I’m going to be honest, is this default position to nimbyism which is supported, I mean the Labour Party has just put down a motion about how they want, you know, to protect people’s rights to object to planning applications, everybody just immediately assumes that it’s advisable just to object, nobody every starts from the position that the Mayor of Biggleswade takes which is, if she’s going to have the growth, it’s going to happen to her anyway, she wants it on her terms, to work for her people, in her place and I really would urge communities to start to take a much more sophisticated approach towards incoming applications that, you know, they really have got to say, you know, you must work with us, we must have the infrastructure up front, we must have a vouchsafe on the quality of what you are going to be delivering, we must understand completely where the… the structure of the 106 and how it’s going to benefit our people and if people were prepared to work that way around, I think we could instil more trust in the country towards our industry but at the moment, you know, if people are riding roughshod over communities, every time that happens, every time anybody gets a housing application through on appeal, shall we say, that does the rest of us who are trying to behave well, a real disservice. 

Susan Freeman

No, and it’s interesting because as you said, you have been banging the drum for local communities for a long time and saying that, you know, local people are the experts on, you know, what’s good for their community and what works and maybe there’s a glimmer of light because I think you’ve also acknowledged that when you say that now, you aren’t sort of dismissed out of hand by developers, they are, you know, actually taking on board the fact that there has to be more co-operation.  So, I know one of the things we, you know, we talked about and you touched upon, is the role of the car in developing new communities and it’s a real issue because, you know, we all want to save the planet and we know that we’ve got to live more sustainably but if you are living in a city centre, you know, there’s public transport, you know, you can walk between places, you can cycle, but if you are living in a rural area, what’s the alternative and what are you thinking about for your development?

Jackie Sadek

Well, it’s been the most incredible journey for us, this, the first time we ever met Biggleswade Town Council and it was quite a frosty meeting when we first went in, it wasn’t till the second hour that we were in there that things began to warm up at all but one of the things that became quite clear was that when we started talking about walking and cycling, I mean, they literally laughed, the councillors literally laughed and, you know, we were kind of taken aback by this.  Now, remember, we’re all kind of, dare I say, sneering metropolitan elite, you know, we’re Londoners, we have Oyster cards, half of my team couldn’t drive, didn’t drive, didn’t own cars, didn’t drive at all, I drove but very badly, you know, we’d already got a mindset that was anti-car.  Urban regeneration practitioners tend to be anti-car and we came away from this quite, it was quite sobering really that, and then when you got under the skin of the transport availability in Biggleswade, you began to understand.  Right, there are no buses, four buses a day or something ridiculous, I mean there a bit more than that but it, you know, the buses are not, it’s not like a London, you know nothing like the London… we all know that rural buses are lamentable.  We learnt this first-hand.  There’s no Uber, there’s no taxis, there are taxis of course but most of them are pre-booked, unless you pre-book a taxi, you can’t get a taxi in Biggleswade, most of them are pre-booked by the Local Authority anyway to take their special needs kids to school.  So, you know, the whole thing, so to get anywhere, to get your children to school, to get your shopping, to do whatever it was, you had to own a car and we got into this kind of extraordinary kind of discussion with people about trying to get people out of their cars, including I might say, Central Bedfordshire Council have got zero carbon by 2030 target, okay, and they’re asking us for three car parking spaces for every resident, every home we build and we’re going “Errrr,” I mean, it isn’t just that we don’t want to build three car parking spaces in terms of, you know, land take and all the rest of it, it’s the aesthetics of it.  We don’t think it looks very good and we’re committed to, you know, getting people out of their cars and to saving the planet and all the other stuff so, we had to start thinking about it rather differently and very, very difficult in a rural community where people are absolutely wedded to their SUVs, we’d run community consultations and members of the community would come, we’ve done several, we’ve done three bouts of five weeks each, and members of the community would come in to whichever, you know, Baptist church we were sitting in or whatever it was, and say to us, “Well how many bedrooms has that one got?” and you’d say, “Well that one’s got four bedrooms,” “Oh, well you’re going to need four car parking spaces because” you know, “and you probably need an extra one for the visitor.  Probably five, you need five for that one, we wouldn’t buy… can you put my name down for buying one of these but only if it’s got five car parking spaces” and you just think, this is like an arms race so, we had to start thinking about it differently.  I have to say, all credit to Homes England who not only came up with a housing infrastructure fund grant for us for electricity, we haven’t got… there’s no power in East Bedfordshire at all, we’ve built another 200 houses and that’s all the juice taken up but also through the Garden Community Programme, Homes England Garden Community Programme, started to help us look at things differently so, now we’ve got basically a sustainable travel corridor concept which is basically a designated route that goes around the town, we start with walking and cycling and completely safely, you couldn’t cycle safely in Biggleswade at the moment but you could do on this new designated route, the route of course is incredibly controversial but we are getting there on the argument, we put the route in, we start with walking and cycling, little tiny Hopper buses and we hope to move to shared autonomous vehicles quite soon.  I think the only way you are going to achieve modal shift in new settlements, is if you put it in up front, you are not going to achieve it if you build all the homes with the car parking and then try to retrofit it, it’s not going to work so, we’re doing some quite seminal work in all of this and if we pull it off, and it is a big old ask, it will only be with the support of the community.  If we can’t get the community to support it, and in the main Biggleswade Town Council to support it, and we’ve got a long way to go, if we can’t get that support then we can’t deliver it but if we manage to deliver it then we will have delivered a paradigm that we can then roll out for other extensions to market towns throughout the country and god knows, it needs to happen.  Sorry, I rant a bit on this. 

Susan Freeman

Well, no, it’s important and as I think I said to you before, there is the possibility of taxi drones and they are coming much faster than we think so, you know, being in a rural area, you are more likely to be able to use those before we can use them in cities.  So, let’s get back… at the beginning of the conversation, you were talking about feminising the real estate sector and we have been making real efforts in real estate to encourage more women into senior roles.  How do you think you are doing because I saw you were involved in a conversation on Twitter a couple of days ago, there was a young woman mentee who was complaining, you know, that she was being discriminated against and I thought, my god, you know haven’t things changed, I mean do you think things have changed and is there anything more we should be doing?

Jackie Sadek

Well, things are miles, miles, miles better, you know, and I think we have to say that, you know, my first team at Biggleswade, you know, I had an almost entire, entirely woman team on the consultancy side, you know, a woman architect, woman engineer, obviously I’m a woman, you know, we had quite a big kind of, we made quite a big push to have an all-woman kind of presentation to, at our first outing.  Who would ever have thought, Susan, that both the editors of both of our trade journals would be women by now, you know, and have been for sometime now, you know, so I see that as a massive tick in the box?  I think the inclusion and diversity agenda is taking, is getting traction, is becoming mainstream, I was greatly encouraged by Cushman & Wakefield sponsoring Gay Pride last, ooh this month I suppose, but I think you know the sponsorship and I’ve said this to Cushman’s, you know, the sponsorship must underline behavioural and cultural changes in your organisation, I think they buy into that completely.  Now, this stuff can’t be done overnight, you know, we’ve watched the legal profession make an… you know your own profession make an enormous, make enormous inroads to this, the Law Society started back in I think it was the nineties wasn’t it, mid-nineties when they started so, you know, we’ve got a way to go but I am encouraged I think by progress.  I will say this though and it goes to what you are saying about the Twitter exchange, you know, there is still real discrimination against young women coming forward, that there’s still quite a lot of, you know, sexual abuse in the workplace and we have got to have, we older women, have got to have zero tolerance for any of that and we’ve got to support our young sisters coming through, you know, and I was saying to my correspondent on Twitter, you know, zero tolerance, up with this we will not put, you know and that’s what we have to keep enforcing and keep saying.  I think we are getting there, I’m greatly encouraged by some of the stuff that guys said over at GLL and by some of the stuff that Grosvenor have said, you know, I think it’s coming, I think it’s coming and as I said earlier on, you know, when I started in the industry, you know all the men were managers and all the women were secretaries, you know, and big beasts from those days, you know, go back to Stuart Lipton and the likes, they’re now completely and utterly on side with this agenda so, yeah I think we are changing hearts and minds, I think we’ve got another good decade to go before we don’t have to keep talking about it the whole time. 

Susan Freeman

That’s true and then, I think one of the problems of getting people from different backgrounds, you know, talented young people into the sector is that our image isn’t as good as it should be and, you know, it’s something that’s bothered me for a long time because, you know, we do such brilliant things and we create communities and the places that people are going to be spending their lives, you know, why aren’t we better thought of?  I mean, I don’t know whether that’s a rhetorical question or whether you’ve got thoughts on that one?

Jackie Sadek

I think it is sort of rhetorical, I mean I probably could give you some thoughts, probably take me about an hour and a half to lay them out.  You know, I have to say, you know, we are a bit old and male and stale aren’t we, what’s it pale, male and stale, we’re a little bit, you know, if you look at, you know, you and I are aficionados at MIPIM, you know, is it 1 in 10 delegates at MIPIM are women?  That’s not great, that’s not great so, you know, it goes back to everything you were saying before, it’s not going to be a quick fix but I think, you know, we have got to start to really address this stuff and I have to say I responded to somebody on Twitter this morning, the idea that in this world, this pandemic world, you are running a virtual event and you have an all-male panel, I mean that just gets worse and worse frankly, if you can’t find somebody to sit on the panel, a female person to sit on a panel when you are running something virtually, well there’s no hope at all is there?

Susan Freeman

No, Jackie, how do you feel about being the token virtual female person?

Jackie Sadek

I have been it all my life.  I have been it all my career.  I have had to make it work for me.  I’m not happy about the fact that I’m the token but, you know, if it happens, I will do it and I will step up to the plate.  I will say to everybody, you know, if you have got a panel of five people and I’m the only woman on there, I will say well hang on a minute, shouldn’t there be another woman on here?  I will always say that but if I’m the token so be it, I’d rather be the token than you have an all-male panel.

Susan Freeman

And do you get the opportunity to get your views out?

Jackie Sadek

As you know, I’m shy and retiring and I don’t like to advance too many, you know, views too often because, you know, I like to hide my light under a bushel, you know. 

Susan Freeman

I know, I know that.  Well, hopefully we will be getting back to real live events and I went to my first real estate event, Property Week Covid-secure lunch yesterday and it’s ridiculous, I was so thrilled about being given a name badge because I hadn’t had one for so… well, I hadn’t needed one so, it’s happening.  So, as we edge out of lockdown, what are you most looking forward to getting back to?  Or what have you most missed over the last fifteen months or so?

Jackie Sadek

I saw that about you being thrilled about having a name badge and I saw also the other comment which was “Susan Freeman never needs a name badge” and I think that’s absolutely spot on.  I mean, how very dare they.  How very dare they, you are property royalty and you shouldn’t have had to have a name badge.  I genuinely, I miss all the things that you’ve just talked about, Susan, I miss the lunches and the receptions and the dinners, I miss the spontaneity, I miss the fact that the one thing you could say about our industry which is brilliant and actually rather better than almost any other industry I could think of, is its sense of humour, we have a great sense of humour, you know, we are witty and funny and we have a lot of in-jokes, I’ve missed all of that, I’ve missed all the stuff, the spontaneity and the interstitial spaces that makes the world go round and I have, I mean I am, you know, a narcissistic, egotistical extrovert, you know, I have missed my lunches, at one point I was running a tally of how many lunches I’d missed, you know, and it got to something like 250 and I was almost suicidal, you know, it’s not been great, I haven’t found it at all easy.  I’m fortunate in that I’m a bit long in the tooth and I’ve got a big network but if I’d been in my late twenties say and kind of trying to forge a career, I think I would have found this an incredible setback because, you know, although one can do an awful lot virtually, the way that one is really going to build your career is by going out and meeting people and meeting them in the flesh and it’s how human beings work actually, we don’t really work down a screen and I’ve missed it all, I’ve found it all incredibly difficult.  In fact, you know, I said to somebody the other day, it’s nearly killed me and I never got the virus, you know, it has nearly killed me, it’s been awful, I’ve hated it, I’ve hated every, you know, everything about it, I have really not… So, all the things you are talking about, the thrill of getting back out to a lunch and I was out at my first lunch yesterday, all those things, I’m with you completely.  I don’t miss name badges.  I’ll just put that in, I don’t miss name badges. 

Susan Freeman

I don’t actually wear the name badge…

Jackie Sadek

Good. 

Susan Freeman

I just have a collection in my bag but it was just realising it’s been, you know, it’s been a long time.  Well, Jackie, thank you so much and thank you for mentioning the humour because I think you are absolutely right so, it’s been great talking to you and hopefully we’ll see each other again very soon. 

Jackie Sadek

I do hope so.  Thank you so much, it’s been an honour.  Thank you. 

Susan Freeman

Thank you, Jackie, for a characteristically straight talking canter through some of the challenges real estate regeneration is currently facing.  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.

Jackie Sadek has 30 years’ experience in property, specializing in public-private sector partnerships. From 2014 to 2016 Jackie was Specialist Adviser to Government on urban regeneration. 

Jackie is Founder and Chief Operating Officer of UK Regeneration (UKR), developing new models of housing delivery, currently bringing forward 1,500 homes in a garden settlement in Bedfordshire.  She was Member of Grimsey Review team on the future of the high street, reporting in 2013, 2018 and 2020 and was on the judging panel of the MHCLG Great British High Streets Awards 2019.  She is co-author of “Broken Homes” on the housing crisis with former Estates Gazette Editor Peter Bill, published October 2020, and is a regular columnist for the EG.

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