Social Housing heads to the MIPIM property conference in Cannes and finds familiar faces from the sector
Social Housing magazine at the MIPIM property conference in Cannes. How times have changed.
After the first day of meetings and visits to the conference stands, I would - rather predictably - say there is more for people concerned with building local communities at this event than they may first think.
The central message here is that the UK, and particularly its city regions, are not only open for business - they are some of the most attractive places in the world to invest.
It’s a message which must be made loud and clear against a backdrop of unprecedented political volatility, not least the country’s plans to leave the European Union.
No one - especially housing associations - would argue that these aren’t unpredictable, even unprecedented, times.
Many would also accept that the investment required in UK housing and infrastructure won’t be coming from the UK government’s coffers; responsibility for driving economic growth must be taken at a regional or local level.
Albeit the commercial property perspective, Colliers International set the scene of the European economy with its research release this morning, which claimed that the biggest risk to European real estate is not the triggering of Article 50 and Brexit, but the policies of the two Donalds: Donald Tusk, President of the European Council and Donald Trump, President of the United States.
In fact, Brexit is just a small part of a much larger risk of wider EU fragmentation and new Eurozone instabilities, it argues, with other cities finding it continually difficult to challenge the powerhouse that is London.
And the capital is certainly here in force, from the Greater London Authority to the likes of Croydon and Lambeth to boroughs that have banded together to make their pitch, such as a number from East London.
London also appears the best-represented part of the country when it comes to housing associations.
A small but not insignificant number of associations are here and most have an HQ, or at least a presence, in the capital: Clarion Group, A2Dominion, Notting Hill Housing, One Housing, Catalyst and Swan Housing, along with Places for People.
Some are looking to open up new investment opportunities and relationships, particularly with overseas funders.
That means it is partly about educating some big names in the investment world about what the sector has to offer; a profile-raising exercise for a sector seen as ‘alternative’ but where many will be pitching themselves as property developers with a social purpose, rather than as social landlords.
And they will argue that they have a strong investment story to tell: a multi-billion pound asset base sitting within a regulatory framework, high-demand for their ‘product’, and both an inherent desire to deliver social impact along with an ambition to address the UK’s housing supply shortage.
Interestingly, it comes as some of the large housebuilders - under some political pressure to deliver more, but also with their own targets around delivering quality homes - are moving in from the other direction, and thinking about how they can improve their image as placemakers.
The story here certainly isn’t just about London.
The UK’s cities and their surrounding regions, supported by a host of private partners and sponsors, are making a major play for investment in their economy and infrastructure: Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and Glasgow, to name a few, are all here to be heard.
Social Housing hopes to do its bit tomorrow, with a session in the Manchester area that focuses on how the government can achieve its aim of delivering 1 million homes nationally - encompassing the role of housing associations, investors, local government and developers, and the need for the right policy and operating framework.