MIPIM: Ten themes from this week in Cannes
A few hundred attendees from Manchester and Liverpool enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive week; equivalent some said to a year's valuable networking crammed into a few days with a positive atmosphere in the sunshine on the south coast of France.
The festival was attended by 20,500 delegates from around the world, with 4,000 of those from the UK, second only to France in sending attendees. And that's only the ones registered to go inside the Palais des Festivals. Many thousands more travel down to attend meetings outside the festival hall in the bars, hotels and beach restaurants, without buying a pass to get into the convention proper.
Here are some of the themes that emerged from the North West contingent:
1. It's back… Ferraris, early-hour finishes, champagne and cigars, a confident influx of UK city regions – Stoke, Leicester, Cardiff, Nottingham, Derby, Leeds – all here in style. This was an upbeat MIPIM, now in its 25th year. People were having fun and networking in a relaxed mood without the urgent air of trying to rescue their positions any more, happy with where they are and out here supporting clients, promoting sites and trying to win even more work.
2. …but is it really back? Cautious optimism was a recurring phrase. First-time attendees, often running start-up companies five years old or less, were here to work hard and meet as many people as possible, not just to party. But for every wide-eyed newcomer talking things up, there was a veteran at the back saying he hoped the market hadn't got excited about recovery too soon.
3. Liverpool and Manchester are working together. Several events saw the two NW cities side by side sharing the stage, including an Atlantic Gateway breakfast starring Liverpool mayor Cllr Joe Anderson and Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein; Gary Neville paying a fleeting visit to the Liverpool stand after his Manchester Q&A on Thursday. The complementary nods to each other seemed genuine enough. Beyond those photo opportunities there seemed to be greater crossover between the attendees off stage; Manchester guests at Liverpool hosted dinners, Liverpool visitors wandering into the Manchester Bar, the sort of friendliness which was all too rare in the past.
4. Industrial is challenging offices as the new star of commercial property. After feeling sorry for themselves for years, moaning that people only want to hear about city centre offices and their larger rents, industrial agents have reason to plump out their chests at last. The launch of Peel Logistics on Wednesday was well received, backed up by a Liverpool SuperPort lunch on the NAI Global yacht on Thursday, and the annual Shedmasters party guests with more reasons to be excited. The rise of online retailing has created an explosion of investment in the industrial sector which shows that it is likely to hang around for some time.
5. The open secret of Manchester's success. The first speech on the city's stand this week was a heavy economic essay by Jim O'Neill arguing for a revolution in national government thinking about regional cities. This set Manchester's tone for the week with repeated references to Whitehall lobbying, financial devolution, AGMA's investment plans, local government reform, becoming a net tax contributor to the state, the constant reference to economic evidence gathering. When the Manchester plan is tested the city leaders show the workings, not just the brief final answer some other cities trot out. Showing property companies behind the curtain in this way, explaining how the city works, the tools in the box, reinforces solidarity and disarms all but the hardiest private sector critics. The thinking shown is normally logical, simple and persuasive, like the best university professor explaining complex theory.
6. Liverpool was back. The stand looked great, the BAC Mono sports car turned heads all week. The IFB dinner went down well atop the Radisson Blu overlooking the harbour. A relatively late decision to attend was the right one, supported by 14 sponsors, not bad from a standing start after a break of several years. All that said; the final touch of polish and execution needs to be there to back up the good ideas and undeniable international appeal of Liverpool. When Max Steinberg, chief executive of Liverpool Vision, stood to introduce the senior civil servant from the UKTI, Paul Marsh, at the start of the IFB dinner and asked the room where his distinguished guest was, Max really should have known he was sitting next to him.
7. PRS. The subject du jour of the residential sector, the private rented sector, was heard as many times as any piece of property jargon this week. Tangible examples of PRS being delivered were less audible. Even before the deals have started, the backlash has begun with people starting to worry PRS could become a sub-prime sector, with flog-'em-quick developers less bothered about quality architecture. There were demonstrations outside festival hall about the perceived selling out of the world's cities and the private influence over the public's rights to affordable housing, food and land. The Twitter generation even has its own #antimipim label for such arguments.
8. Is Manchester starting to overheat? Prime office deals in the city in recent months have seen funds paying over the odds for chunky office blocks, as they rush to place cash they couldn't find a home for in already-overheating London. This one will be interesting to watch unfold this year.
9. Workspace is changing. New investment funds are being created to invest in alternative office locations once not seen as commercially attractive, such as Manchester's Northern Quarter or Liverpool's Baltic Triangle. The more progressive councils are responding by trying to raise public pots to help make risky ventures more viable. The hipster techies might be the future but they can't pay the same rent as a big law firm so how does the real estate world deliver product for them? GVA's excellent UK core cities report launched this week argues for an equity-based model; could we see landlords start to take stake in tech tenants?
10. Talk of the North-South divide is passé. It's the Rest of the UK-London divide. Not just words, but a sign of a general election lobbying campaign rolling into view. Expect to hear a lot more of Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, standing shoulder to shoulder as they deliver their case to the main political parties nationally in the coming year ahead of the 2015 poll. The message is polite and canny, hopefully it will work: 'London is fantastic, we can help you be even better if we grow too'.