Growing pains

Despite the optimistic mood at MIPIM, Marnix Elsenaar finds that planningis still seen as an obstacle to growth for housing, commercial development and infrastructure

My last MIPIM was in 2007 at the height of the boom. Six years later and the property industry is still feeling the effects of a double-dip recession.

The mood is serious but optimistic with agents, lawyers and accountants focused on measuring the tangible return on their MIPIM investment. It’s an interesting MIPIM for the banks too as they continue to cut back on lending but compete to lend on prime schemes where the exit strategy, whether a signed-up tenant or adequate purchaser demand, is clear.

It’s not the place to be if you’re trying to pin down that Korean or Malaysian pension fund to buy your squeaky-clean prime investment. Culturally, MIPIM issomething of an anathema for the Far Eastern market and if any marketing was to be done, it all happened at MIPIM Asia back in November – a bit of a shame given that’s where so much of the activity is.

At our seminar with the BPF, the message from the speakers on planning was that it remains an obstacle to growth for housing, commercial development and infrastructure. Bill Hughes of Legal &General called for greater certainty and Steve Norris, wearing his chair of the National Infrastructure Planning Association hat, called for the return of the Infrastructure Planning Commission to take controversial decisions away from politicians. It’s certainly clear that despite a non-stop programme of planning reforms by the current government and the last, the system isn’t quicker, fairer or cheaper. Surely it’s time to review the fundamentals rather than just tinkering around the edges.

While the numbers are down, the calibre of those attending remains high. But you’re unlikely to bump into many CEOs in the bar of the Martinez: the uber-networking is prolific but behind closed doors and at the ‘invitation-only’private dinners and select parties. Away from the day job, MIPIM is a great time for the industry leaders to come up for air and swap notes on the impact of their industry on the economy and do some horizon spotting in terms of what lies ahead.

There’s real engagement with the challenges that remain but there’s also a sense of energy and determination that the industry needs, and will make things happen. And while it’s great to catch a bit of sun on the Croisette, bump into old friends and swap stories about late nights and drunken escapades (by others of course), we can’t linger for too long as the BlackBerry and the work back at the office demand attention.

Marnix Elsenaar is head of planning at Addleshaw Goddard