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What happened when Mipim UK addressed the housing crisis?

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Three debates at this week’s Mipim UK in London touched on that difficult topic for the property industry - the capital’s rising inequality

Inequality and the housing shortage were the unlikely topics on the agenda at MIPIM UK panel discussions. And none of the various panellists – megalodons of the international development industry – would be on the Christmas card lists of the campaigners from Architects for Social Housing protesting outside.

The debate on the lack of supply in the housing market centred around politics.

Gary Yardley, MD of Earls Court developer Capco, called for ‘courageous politicians’ to address the scale of London’s need, and more central force in imposing potentially unpopular schemes. No doubt he had his own Earls Court redevelopment, or ‘reimagination’ in mind; the local popularity of which has been… imaginary.

Centre for London director Ben Rogers took it one step further. ‘What needs to happen,’ he said, ‘is electorally difficult’.

His suggestion was a challenge to local democracy, and it sounded callous. ‘Nonsensical’ was the word he used to describe affordable or social housing provided on the development site.

‘Why should an Afghani refugee live on the Strand?’ was his rhetorical exhortation. ‘Yes, you can engage local communities,’ he continued wearily, ‘But we need to agree to hold local authorities to account’. 

It is up to the mayor, Yardley concurred, ‘to step in’ and warn local authorities of their responsibilities to deliver development in London - even in the face of local opposition.

‘If you don’t do your job, there will be consequences’, Yardley said. He talked about a ‘carrot and stick’ approach without expanding on what the stick or carrot would mean in practice.

Another unlikely panel addressing the topic ‘London: From Social Housing to Super Prime’ featured Nick Candy, chief executive of Candy & Candy, the company behind London’s most expensive apartments - the Rogers Stirk Harbour-designed One Hyde Park - and Stephen Howlett, chief executive of Peabody.

Married to Neighbours actress and pop star Holly Valance, Nick Candy has, according to Times Business editor Richard Fletcher, ‘a fantastic black book’, and is ‘just as likely to be found in the gossip columns as on the business pages’.

Candy railed against the stamp duty increase to 12 per cent, arguing that the revenue to the government will be lower as the market slows down. On top of stamp duty, said Candy, deflating oil prices, business troubles in China, and wars in the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine mean that the super-prime market is in relative peril. No one was shedding tears at this point.

Candy pointed out that for all the protesting about housing for the super-rich, super-prime property sales amount to under 1,000 transactions per annum in London, and that negative growth would be an issue for many besides those recalcitrant squillionaires. 

This was music to Howlett’s ears, who pointed out that ‘super-prime and social housing are inextricably linked’, a bandwagon that the entire panel eagerly boarded. London has a super-prime market because it is a safe, clean place to live, he said, and those who live in social housing can be provided with jobs by the super-primers.

‘The Housing Shortage and Rising Inequality’ was the final session, and the same room that had previously seemed so stuffy and small suddenly took on palatial dimensions as rows of chairs sat empty. Perhaps the subject was too close to the bone for the Mipim audience or, more plausibly, it was considered completely irrelevant.  

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