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Property world remains optimistic even as it holds its breath over Brexit

Paul Finch
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Despite Brexit jitters, the London Real Estate Forum was still demonstrating plenty of ambition, writes Paul Finch

Last week’s London Real Estate Forum event, held in its usual tent in Berkeley Square, was a generally positive occasion, despite jitters about Brexit. I had the pleasure of chairing four conference sessions, and most informative they were.

For example, I knew the planned development and improvement of Brent Cross South was big. Hammerson and Standard Life were undertaking a major upgrade of London’s first out-of-town shopping centre, while Argent and its US partner, housing specialist Related, are creating a new connected urban environment. What I didn’t realise was the immensity of the scale – 12 million square feet, to use the imperial parlance of the property sector.

Brent Cross Cricklewood South

Brent Cross Cricklewood South

Source: Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands / Alan Marten

Brent Cross Cricklewood South

In west London, sessions on Paddington and the redevelopment of the Whiteleys department store in Queensway showed that local identity is alive and well, and is being amply supported by development and architecture. The hiccup over the Renzo Piano tower for Irvine Sellar, now the subject of a major redesign exercise, will not mean the loss of transport improvements at the station, where Crossrail will become a significant addition.

This is not the only game in town, however. Derwent with Fletcher Priest is producing a canalside commercial building in the Brunel tradition, while British Land is also actively promoting canalside environments, and is finishing/contemplating the final pieces in its Kingdom Street estate. Meanwhile the Berkeley Group is using Michael Squire to produce a major residential scheme on the long-wasted Edgware Road site opposite Church Street market. Greater Paddington lives!

Queensway is far enough away to have its own strong identity, and an equally strong proposal by Foster + Partners for the appropriately named Warrior Group. This shows great promise – a building designed in section to deal with listing issues will produce a most striking mixed-use complex worthy of the site. Let’s hope other buildings on the street show the same flair.

LSE professor Tony Travers would love the capital to go it alone if there is a ‘leave’ vote

My fourth session was about what was described as ‘the Southbank’, a swathe of the capital south of the river from Vauxhall to Canada Water. If this definition seemed slightly odd (what about Nine Elms?) it had the logic of referring to two boroughs, Lambeth and Southwark. It had also generated some interesting leasing data from Cushman & Wakefield, showing how new types of tenant were engaging with south-of-the-river development.

Council leaders Lib Peck (Lambeth)  and Peter John (Southwark) demonstrated an enthusiasm for development, provided it produced benefits for locals as well as London, which seemed light years away from the oppositional politics of not long ago.

Artur Carulla, partner at Allies and Morrison, made some good general points about the nature of the riverine condition, and edges might be treated as hedges in the interest of consistency of approach. He managed to use the phrase ‘ersatz topiary’ in a way that made perfect sense, an indication that wit is still with us.

Of course it was impossible to escape talk of this week’s EU vote, not least from LSE professor Tony Travers. His excellent recent book, London Boroughs at 50, critiques the making of modern London governance; he would love the capital to go it alone if there is a ‘leave’ vote.

If that happens, we will need creative minds like his to address the head-on opportunities and requirements, as well as disruptions, that either vote would entail, including the housing shortage.

By the way, did you notice that the official estimates for average house prices in London dropped £80,000 over the last three recorded months, not because of Brexit, but because of a more accurate calculation of the figures by statisticians. Anyone who believed Project Fear on house prices, take note.

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