Ten themes from MIPIM 2016

Jessica SwettenhamJessica Middleton-Pugh reflects on a packed-like-sardines week in Cannes.

In or out? The impending EU referendum was an unavoidable and oft-repeated topic. If the mood around the Manchester and Liverpool delegation was anything to go by, the business community seems very much in favour of staying in. However, a straw poll in the Manchester Villa on the first day showed that attendees didn’t yet feel “the right conversation was being had” about the UK’s future role in the EU.

On the international stage. In the face of an over-heating London, investors from across the world were eyeing up the North West. Speaking to Place on the Liverpool stand, developer George Downing said that one day at MIPIM had yielded conversations with Canadian, Dutch, and Abu Dhabi investors, while representatives of Singaporean sovereign wealth funds were seen sniffing around Allied London on the Manchester stand.

New kids on the block. Recent entrants to the Manchester market from London and other Northern cities threw their hats into the ring with the Manchester at MIPIM contingent in a bid to up their profile with the main decision-makers in the city. Never have so many Liverpudlian and Yorkshire accents been heard in the Manchester Bar.

Go East… Mention of Leeds was hard to avoid. No longer considered a rival on the wrong side of the Pennines, money is flowing freely between the regions, as companies bridge the divide to establish new offices and look forward to the better transport connections that dominated headlines this week.

Budget day. Osborne’s impeccable timing meant that his Budget announcement happened on the Wednesday of MIPIM, providing a perfect opportunity to witness the local political leaders’ reactions to key announcements. Rumours abounded that the decision to give the bulk of the £300m rail and road improvements to projects that benefit Manchester to Leeds and Sheffield was a bitter pill for Liverpool to swallow, especially in the face of ever deeper local government cuts.

What’s new? In previous years, stand events could be relied on for the launch of a new building, delivery partner, or fresh design for a scheme. This year’s MIPIM was a year of piecemeal updates and lots of talk of “continuing momentum”. Here’s hoping that’s because the big names are just cracking on with schemes, rather than holding back stories for the MIPIM platform.

Taking a stand. At least Allied London is still guaranteed to cause a splash. Chief executive Michael Ingall crammed in announcements on new plans for St John’s, reworked public space and leisure offers in Spinningfields, and his vision for creating a “cultural arc” along Whitworth Street, most of which is made up of sites he doesn’t even own. You can’t accuse the man of lacking of ambition.

No room at the inn. All of the usual haunts for the North West contingent were busier than ever, with the Manchester Bar taking the phrase “packed like sardines” to a whole new level. Finding room to shake hands and swap business cards, supposedly the main point of MIPIM, became next to impossible. With 99 partners all putting in hefty sums of money into the Manchester coffers, perhaps it’s time the city looked into forking out for a bigger venue?

Timetable troubles. If the bar was packed, so too was the diary of events on the Manchester stand. Daily RIBA discussions tailored to the swollen architectural contingent, and each day partners hosted their own events as evening arrived. Even the main stand sessions in the morning and afternoon felt crowded, as sometimes two or three people were required to share a 15-minute time slot, which is not nearly enough to go over serious project news.

Let’s get down to business. Overall, this week in MIPIM felt focused and productive, as if trying to shake the old reputation that it’s just a jolly in the sunshine. For all those who watched their directors jet off while they stayed back at the office, be reassured; we even had to deal with rain this year.

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