Themes from UKREiiF 2023
For the second consecutive year, the sun shone on Leeds during the national property convention, where professionals from across the country gathered to do business. Here is a rundown of what people were talking about at UKREiiF.
As expected, the topic of devolution featured heavily, especially when Steve Rotheram was around. The Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor wasted no time in banging the drum for more devolved powers. At one of the conference’s first sessions, Rotheram lambasted Westminster – as he is prone to doing – for being a “bumbling monolith” that is “not nimble enough to respond to the needs of individual areas”. When asked by Place North West how discussions over a trailblazer deal similar to those awarded to Greater Manchester and West Midlands in March were going, he seemed frustrated yet hopeful. “[The negotiations] are going slower than I would like. I am pretty certain we will be the next one along,” he said.
While at MIPIM in March big new schemes and strategies were hard to come by, UKREiiF 2023 was used as a platform by the public sector to reveal major breakthroughs. Wirral waited until arriving in Leeds before announcing its acquisition of a huge chunk of the town centre, while Stockport held a special event to unveil the winner of a £250m development opportunity. Outside the North West, Birmingham, in partnership with Bruntwood SciTech and Aston University, also got in on the action, announcing plans for B-IQ, an innovation park spanning 50 acres of the city centre.
UKREiiF saw property professionals flock from all corners of the UK to a relatively intimate setting in and around Leeds’s Royal Armouries Museum. This provided the appropriate critical mass for turbo-charged networking. As one attendee told Place North West, “you couldn’t walk 10 yards without bumping into somebody.” Another said they had managed to squeeze three months’ meetings into three days. While catching up with contacts and meeting new ones is the whole point of this kind of event, some people found that the number of incidental meetings got in the way of those already in the diary. “I had to start walking around looking at the floor so I didn’t get distracted and miss my meetings,” one flustered architect told us. The number of people at the conference, estimated to be double that of 2022 at between 7,000 and 7,500, meant that queues for the food trucks were often long and some of the panels, unless you arrived 20 minutes early, were impossible to get into. It has already been confirmed that Leeds will host UKREiiF in 2024. Beyond that, if the event’s popularity continues to grow, a new venue might well be required.
More than one attendee expressed a degree of boredom at hearing the same lines about the importance of public-private sector partnerships over and over again at UKREiiF. It is vital, of course, to pool the collective know-how of developers and public partners, and the fact this issue keeps being spoken about suggests it is not happening enough. Maybe more time needs to be spent actually collaborating rather than simply talking about how good it would be if we did.
One area where the public sector really needs buy-in from private partners is health. Around 80% of council budgets are spent on adult and children’s social care. Speaking at an event titled Healthy Cities for Healthy Economies, Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority, implored the private sector to join the fight to win the “£13bn economic prize” of erasing health inequalities. Dame Linda Pollard, chair of Leeds Teaching Hospitals, agreed: “We can’t just say we have a problem and expect central government to fix it. They won’t. It is about partnerships.”
What could be more Northern, said the session MC at Greater Manchester’s Atom Valley session, than a delayed Andy Burnham striding into a room with a grim one-word explanation: “Trains”. Transport investment was never far from the big discussions at UKREiiF: North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll extolling the life-changing potential of the Northumberland Line for Ashington’s young people; Leeds chief executive Tom Riordan chairing a roundtable in the Education Room – had central government been there, maybe it could have been shifted to the neighbouring War Room? Just a thought.
Earlier this month, celebrities attending the Met Gala were greeted by a group of climate activists, 15 of whom were ultimately arrested. They were there “to highlight the 1%’s role in driving the climate crisis, and demand higher taxes on the rich”, according to the Independent. At UKREiiF, property professionals were met with protestors handing out leaflets claiming climate change is a hoax and that 15-minute cities are a government ploy to control the population. There were not many takers.
The protests did little – if anything – to dampen the mood among attendees. Mutters of ‘Who needs Cannes’, could be heard punctuating the excited babble of networking property folk as they applied suncream to already pink faces. Delegates Place North West spoke to were generally positive about the event. Euan Kellie, director at EKPS, was attending his first UKREiiF. “It was a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable week with an undeniable buzz of positivity and confidence regarding future investment in Greater Manchester and across the North West,” he said. “It was also fantastic to have the opportunity to meet a mix of clients, new contacts and old friends – already looking forward to next year.”
Hear from Dan Whelan, senior reporter at @PlaceNorthWest, and Louise Hall, business development manager at @PlaceYorkshire_ and @PlaceNorthEast, as they reflect on their time at this year’s @UKREiiF in Leeds from the @marketing_mcr hub. pic.twitter.com/bi82pni2zk
— Place North (@PlaceNorth_) May 17, 2023