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UKREiiF 2024

Mishcon de Reya Partner Susan Freeman has written UKREiiF blog for Property Week. The blog offers a unique insight into the events, panels and dinners during the conference.

Day 1

Who would have thought I would be sitting in my hotel room in Leeds in the early hours of Tuesday morning writing my first UKREiiF blog. After many years of writing a Mipim blog, I suppose it stands to reason.

If you have somehow missed the hype, UKREiiF – which stands for the UK Real Estate Investment & Infrastructure Forum – is now in its third year and has really gained traction since its inception.

After weeks of enthusiastic LinkedIn posts from delegates looking forward to meeting up in Leeds, I began to wonder if anyone in real estate wasn’t coming to Leeds. According to the website, there are 12,000-plus delegates expected this year, which is substantially more than last year – and Leeds felt very busy last year! I attended then to see what was on offer and this year the Mishcon real estate team will be here in force.

There are 40-plus stages and an extensive and ambitious conference programme. Despite the fact Mipim UK never took off, it seems there is now a real demand for a UK-based real estate conference. There are apparently more than 250 local authorities attending, so it is a useful opportunity for the public and private sector to come together en masse.

I don’t want to dwell on the weather, but for the first two years of UKREiiF Leeds has been bathed in unseasonable sunshine, which has really helped encourage a feeling of wellbeing and positivity. It seemed too much to hope for a third year of good weather. But when I left King’s Cross at lunchtime it was boiling hot and sun hats and sandals were everywhere. I even began to worry I hadn’t packed the right wardrobe, a mistake I make every year without fail for Mipim. Unfortunately, as the train chugged northwards the clouds thickened and I was greeted in Leeds by distinctly chilly weather. I believe rain is now on the menu for tomorrow, which could well dampen spirits.

I had a spare hour before the programme of evening events began, so, with map in hand, I went off to explore the city centre retail offer. I stumbled upon Harvey Nichols. And in case it is of any interest, it has some useful seasonal reductions. There is even some wet-weather gear!

Property Week UKREiiF launch party

The kick-off event was the inaugural Property Week UKREiiF launch party co-hosted by specialist property lender ASK Partners. It was very well attended and a good opportunity to catch up for some strategic discussions with a number of guests, including Opportunity London’s Jace Tyrrell and Goodstone founder Martin Bellinger.

I was delighted to be invited to dinner by the Fabrix team, which treated guests to a really enjoyable curry feast. It was great to catch up with our hosts and to chat to Colin Wilson, head of regeneration, Old Kent Road, at the London Borough of Southwark. Our discussion encompassed swathes of central London development with a slight detour into New Forest planning issues. Thank you team Fabrix for your hospitality.

I will report back on how day one of UKREiiF unfolds

Day 2

Despite my concerns about the weather, day one in Leeds was chilly and overcast but largely dry. Large numbers of enthusiastic delegates descended on the Royal Armouries from all parts of Leeds and beyond. With the pressure on hotels, some were commuting in from Harrogate, Wakefield and beyond.

My first impression of the secure area was that everything was bigger and better organised than last year. This was echoed in comments I heard around me from other delegates, all marvelling at how much the event had grown since 2023. There are many more and larger pavilions, all branded and kitted out, which will give more cover when the rain inevitably arrives later in the week.

Many of the pavilions are hosting their own programmes of panel events running alongside those on the main stages. In fact, there is so much going on that, even armed with the hefty tome detailing all the programmed and fringe events, it’s difficult to know where to start. I went for events where I knew the speakers, which didn’t really narrow down the options. Unfortunately, I missed Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner’s slot, but I was told there was a long queue to get into the session.

As the main areas filled up, it became slow to get around. You have to allow extra travelling time to allow for conversations with the many people you encounter en route. With more than 12,000 real estate delegates, UKREiiF is all about networking – so you have to allocate time for those chance encounters and make sure not to overbook your diary. There were of course many conversations about the relative merits of UKREiiF and Mipim, the upshot of which was that they largely complement each other as UKREiiF is, at the moment, UK focused while Mipim remains very much an international tradeshow.

I did dip into a few panels only to find they went on longer than anticipated. As I was due in meetings, it was awkward to leave when sitting in the front row. I enjoyed a panel of senior government property leaders chaired by Property Week editor Lem Bingley on the government property stand. The sheer scale of the government real estate is staggering, at a value of some £180bn and with 140,000 buildings spanning uses that include health, defence and science. The panellists discussed the challenges of getting civil servants back into the office and setting strategy that “met the Daily Mail test” of being an acceptable use of public funds, and also met sustainability targets.

Moda panel, chaired by Property Week editor Lem Bingley

I also managed to pop into a panel on the Moda stage on the provision of amenities in student accommodation. This was a very lively and entertaining panel that underlined the vital importance of accommodation to the student experience. The key message was that we need more supply and a joined-up approach between universities, local authorities and housing providers. In terms of amenities, it seems students now are more concerned about having wellness counselling on site than a gym. There were mentions of the requirements of the emerging Alpha generation, the cohort succeeding Gen Z, and the need to provide more affordable student housing. In the discussion of recent student deals, I was pleased to hear reference to PGIM Real Estate’s £184m student accommodation portfolio acquisition from Unite in which the Mishcon team was delighted to represent PGIM.

I was starving by the time I sat down in Pizza Express for a late lunch at 4pm. Thank you to the staff there who managed to get a pizza to me in less than nine minutes, which I understand is some sort of record. It certainly tasted like nectar when it arrived. CBRE residential supremo Mark Collins joined me for a quick catch-up. Although he was only able to be in Leeds for barely a day, he had covered an astounding amount of ground.

I thought I would save some time by taking the canal boat back into central Leeds. It was a scenic journey but there was still a 10-minute walk at the other end to get to the Landsec drinks reception. It was a well-attended event in its Trinity Shopping Centre. There were speeches from chief executive Mark Allan and from the outgoing leader of Leeds City Council, Tom Riordan, who talked about how much local authorities manage to achieve “despite the system” and the many challenges they face.

I ran into ING Media boss Damian Wild, who told me about a two-hour ‘charrette’ run by Landsec and Bradford council that looked at regeneration opportunities in the wider conurbation. It brought together architects, advisers, developers and others to explore how a town with great potential might thrive again. It sounded like a creative ‘real-world’ way of tackling an issue that was very different from the traditional panel format. It hopefully left stakeholders with some substantial ideas to take forward. Perhaps this is a concept to explore for next year’s UKREiiF as a way of productively bringing the public and private sector together.

In the evening, we hosted our now annual Mishcon UKREiiF dinner at Tattu. The great food, wine and company made it an evening to remember. It was such a great group of people and such fun that we didn’t finish until the early hours, and there was a very strong chance that this blog wouldn’t get written!

The annual Mishcon UKREiiF dinner at Tattu

 

Day 3

Day two dawned grey and wet - not London drizzle, but full-on pouring rain. On the positive side, this meant more time was spent inside taking in some of the excellent panel sessions on offer. Networking outside was not really a viable option, but I noted that the paddle boarding event at Leeds Dock was sold out.

One of my sector focuses is life sciences, and I have a column on the subject in this week’s Property Week so I very much enjoyed the panel chaired by Sam McClary on the UK’s future as a home for science and innovation.

It is all the more topical with the recent announcement of the collaboration between The Crown Estate and Pioneer Group to invest in life sciences. I learnt from the overview presentation by Lendlease director of life sciences Stefano Minini that the UK Golden Triangle area between London, Oxford and Cambridge is the third most prominent cluster in Europe and that UK companies receive 60% of European biotech VC investment. Also, four of the top 10 universities globally are in the UK.

One of the panellists, Geraint Rees, vice-provost of one of our leading London universities, UCL, pointed out that our universities are ‘great people connectors’. He was spot on when he said we need to get better at our collective story telling - a comment that also applies to the property sector generally. He said: “We need to weave together the strands on our future and on our goals.”

Ellie Junod, associate director for life sciences at UBS, which is building one of Europe’s largest life sciences campuses at Stevenage, talked about the need to find the ‘magic ingredient beyond the buildings’.

Minini also spoke about the challenges of redeveloping London’s Euston station and the ‘trilemma’ of bringing together HS2, building over the railway lines and the social impact needed to stitch the communities together and of course making the most of the leading knowledge institutions in the area.

The next session was a lively UK Housing Revolution panel. Jennifer Murray, head of institutional investment at Homes England, made the point that homes shouldn’t be seen as a repository of investment, as has historically been the case. Greystar’s Michela Hancock commented on how investors now appreciated the importance of operational inputs in build-to-rent (BTR) and that there was a higher focus on the quality of customer experience, which she described as “an incredible progression from where we were”.

She worked in US multi-family market before coming to the UK 11 years ago and talked about how in the US market, you had to be top of your game, as customers have a choice and ‘can vote with their feet’. She also talked about the way Greystar’s BTR residents were now starting to organise their own social groups and forming integrated communities.

After several hours of concentration, I felt it was time to venture outside, but the rain was still pouring down and delegates desperately seeking cover where they could. Many had clearly not checked the weather forecast before venturing north and were trying to make the best of it in open toed sandals and summer garb. I even came across a sad looking pair of abandoned summer espadrilles in one of the bathrooms.

All inside areas and available seats were taken and I heard someone remark that pushing your way into one of the overcrowded pavilions was like the London tube in the rush hour. Fortunately, I came across social impact expert Vivienne King, who not only gave up a chair under the awning in front of the Moda pavilion, but also went in search of provisions, as once again, there hadn’t been time for lunch and there was a very long and hungry queue for Pizza Express. She returned with some very welcome coffee and brownies!

There was also time to catch up with Nick Charles from the London Chamber of Commerce for an update on our plans to reinstate the chamber’s Property and Construction Forum.

Sadly, I had to leave Leeds that evening to get back for a meeting in London, so let me know what I missed. During the afternoon, rumours were swirling round the conference that an announcement from Rishi Sunak on the date of the general election was imminent and as I was leaving Leeds, the announcement came through that it would be 4 July. No doubt this news will prompt much discussion in the coming days and weeks.

The return train journey went seamlessly, with the sun breaking through around Peterborough. It was a bonus to catch up en route with Lord Harrington, whose review on what the UK needs to do to attract more overseas investment has attracted much attention. He clearly had a useful contribution to make at UKREiiF.

So, although day two of UKREiiF, and indeed the PM’s election announcement, were sabotaged by the rain, dry weather will resume shortly. I will sign off by just reminding readers that sunshine isn’t guaranteed, even at Mipim. Over the years, there have been days of torrential downpours when the street vendors hastily swap their wares from sunglasses to umbrellas. It’s been a great few days in Leeds despite the weather, but let’s hope the sun returns for 2025.

 

 

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