Themes from MIPIM

It’s goodbye from him. At his last MIPIM as chief executive of Manchester City Council, Sir Howard Bernstein was star of the show. From opening night to the daily dinners, a regal visit to the Liverpool stand, and a packed closing drinks reception, did he ever get tired of the standing ovations? Ever the pro, even on the last day of the conference he opened the stand sessions with “For those who don’t know me, I’m Howard Bernstein.” Throughout, he’s been making it clear any future role will keep him “committed to Manchester”, hinting it’s unlikely this will be his final outing at the property show in the sun.

Neville And Bernstein

It must be love. Meanwhile, it seemed apparent as to who the star was in Bernstein’s mind: Gary Neville. The footballer-turned-developer featured three times on the stand, each alongside Sir Howard. On Thursday, Neville interviewed Bernstein on stage about his career. The presentation when Neville pressed pause on St Michael’s was declared by Bernstein as “one of the best Manchester has ever seen” at a dinner later that night, an occasion sponsored by Neville, featuring a performance by his wedding band. As one attendee put it: “All it needed was Gary and Sir Howard to get up and have their first dance.”

HS2 – for some. At Cheshire events and those involving the various Midlands cities, HS2 has been very much to the fore, with phase one’s Royal Assent and progress on phase two leading Constellation chair Jackie Sadek to exhort the county to be ready, joined by pop impresario and railways guru Pete Waterman. HS2’s not really featured for the other North West players though, barely warranting a mention among the week’s sessions.

Manchester reasserts itself. Birmingham’s had a great run at MIPIM in the last couple of years, pulling in big numbers as Manchester’s stand reached bursting point. Both took the plunge by investing in pavilions for 2017, but where Manchester’s was airy and bright with cool design and slick AV, Brum, being in partnership with every other Midlands city felt stuffy, cramped and noisy. At a glance, attendance numbers seemed to spell out that it’s not just occupiers who prefer to spend time in nice spaces.

Liverpool Stand MIPIM 2017 Max

Liverpool Vision chief Max Steinberg on the stand

Liverpool puts meat on the bones. A lot of MIPIM announcements tend to be re-badged buildings, or existing funding presented in a different way, but this year – with a healthy market it must be said – there’s been some big announcements, not least the £35m Rutherford Cancer Centre by Liverpool. With Colin Sinclair’s astute promotion of other Knowledge Quarter opportunities and genuine progress at both Mersey Waters schemes, 2017 showed that there’s tangible progress being made behind the ceaseless cheerleading that every city must undertake.

Powerhouse, what Powerhouse? While the Northern Powerhouse was repeatedly acknowledged as hugely important, the concept was not a big topic this week, highlighting the lack of progress – something that’s probably not unconnected to Sir Howard Bernstein verbalising his frustration at the current government’s inactivity on devolution. There was a noticeable lack of stages being shared by the North West cities and their Yorkshire counterparts this year.

What Brexit? For the first MIPIM after the UK’s vote to leave the EU last June, the conference was surprisingly free of Brexit talk. After initial nerves at the start of the week that Theresa May would trigger article 50 any day, by Tuesday, following Nicola Sturgeon’s intervention, the B-word was dropping out of conversation.

Meaningful collaboration on the up? “Collaboration” is one of those things everyone talks about, but can’t always demonstrate, so it was fascinating to hear Chris Oglesby, a statesman-like presence for Manchester through the week, speak at the “Science and the City” session on Manchester’s joint research bids with Boston and California. Working more closely together with the likes of Stockholm, Antwerp and Amsterdam, all of whom were well represented at Manchester events, was brought up more than once.

Airports and infrastructure. Occupiers, or end-users in MIPIM-ese, are rare birds at this event, so there’s no point overdoing it on details of office buildings and whizzy workspaces, something that finally seems to have hit home. It’s more important to outline big infrastructure projects that will open new areas, giving investors the intelligence to help them pick winners. Projects with profile this week included new metro lines in Barcelona and Amsterdam, Paris’s proposed driverless metro and Istanbul Airport City – hey, now there’s a good name.

Full house. How to build lots more homes was a recurring theme. There were the big-ticket announcements around planned high-rise resi at Manchester’s Mayfield, Circle Square, Great Northern, and Liverpool’s Festival Gardens and Central Docks. Delivering for the over-55s market, particularly homes in areas where financially solvent people actually want to live, is considered a big growth area. How to build quickly is the challenge, with an expectation that modular construction methods may finally get momentum in a sector outside of hotels.

Mayor of a time. There was much discussion around how the new city region mayors would shift the balance of power come 4 May in Liverpool and Manchester. Back at the ranch, Labour contender Andy Burnham announced he would rewrite parts of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework if elected – a mark against him in the eyes of many in the pro-growth property community. Meanwhile, Tory candidate Sean Anstee made his presence felt amongst the Manchester delegation, winning supporters as he went. In the words of one developer: “He has a way of pulling all the pieces together – it’s the Bernstein way.” Not such an underdog after all?

Cheshire makes its presence felt. Cheshire’s MIPIM performance was solid. Jackie Sadek, the no-nonsense regeneration guru who came in to chair the Northern Gateway Development Zone – now Constellation – last October, a forceful presence and the likes of developer Guy Butler providing support in making Cheshire’s case. It’s mostly about connectivity, but Sadek is getting Cheshire involved in the big conversations – notably trying to cajole Sir Edward Lister, HCA chairman, to pilot the organisation’s modular housing plan in the county.

Cheshire Pete Waterman MIPIM

Music mogul. Although it was his first MIPIM, Pete Waterman is a veteran of Cannes, having attended the pop music industry’s bash every January from 1970 up until 1992 – “sleeping in one hotel bar after another in the early days as I couldn’t afford a room”.  Waterman’s Q&A session with Jackie Sadek on the Cheshire & Warrington stand was only ever going to be titled the Hitman & Her and the duo didn’t disappoint – with the added bonus that staffers on nearby stands now probably know more about Crewe station than they could ever have hoped.

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By Steve the Sceptic

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