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Stories, Trust, Authenticity And Community: The Keys To Developing In London

“Creating a brand is simple, and it's the same with making a place, it needs one thing: it has to be authentic.”

Edge Design founder Steve Edge made it sound so easy at Bisnow's London's Hottest New Areas event Friday. In opening up new areas of London, undertaking large new schemes and winning over local communities, it appears all the real estate community and local authorities need to do is be authentic.

The trouble is, authenticity is something you cannot buy or manufacture.

Moderator Sara Bailey – Trowers & Hamlins, LendLease's Kristy Lansdown, GLA's Fiona Fletcher-Smith, TFL's Peter Elliott and Edge Design's Steve Edge

Edge said Shoreditch, where he moved 37 years ago to set up a business and raise a family even though “people thought you would get killed there”, happened organically rather than being made.

Every developer and local authority wants to create the "new Shoreditch" or generate a "Shoreditch vibe". They are getting better at it. But it is difficult and for many remains elusive.

The keys, according to our panelists, are working with the local community and the existing “grain” of an area, building trust, telling a story and not forgetting about jobs.

“Not everywhere in London is the same, and you have to be led by what local people want and need,” Transport for London head of property development Peter Elliott said. “These are the people who will be living in the homes, using the shops, using our bus network.”

“I see a lot of new regeneration schemes that talk about place-making, and they are just for one type of person” Edge said. “You need to create places where you have a real community, rich people living next to poor people and getting on. That authentic mix is part of our culture, it’s primeval.”

Lendlease head of new business development Kristy Lansdown said earning the trust of the existing local community was crucial for developers looking to undertake major new developments in an area.

“You have to bring together a lot of uses that allow people to live, work and play in an area and create new economic opportunities,” she said. “It’s emotive and you have to learn how to build trust with the local community.”

London's Hottest Areas event

Fiona Fletcher-Smith, executive director of development, enterprise and environment at the Greater London Authority, picked up on the idea of trust, and extended it to the public sector, and the way it works with the private sector.

“The public sector is not the most trusted brand at the moment, and we have work to build that trust,” she said. “We also need to show the best examples of public-private partnerships, and change the image people have, which is empty hospitals or schools with bits falling off — we need to celebrate some of the fantastic examples we have.”

Elliott added: “If we are going to facilitate growth, the public and private sector also need to trust each other and understand each other’s needs. The private sector needs to understand that the public sector needs to provide jobs and increase receipts, and on the other hand, the public sector needs to realise it's okay for the private sector [to] want to make a profit.”

In terms of how London can meet its housing needs, the conversation inevitably turned to the build-to-rent sector, and here Edge said the narrative was changing.

“Brands are about stories, the information you have and how you tell that story,” he said.

In branding Essential Living, which opened its first build-to-rent building in Archway, Edge's team researched the people living there and discovered they rent by choice, not because they cannot afford to buy.

“We used to think that people rented because they were poor, but that story is changing,” Edge said. “Kids today don’t want to own anything, they don’t want to own a car, or a phone or a library. So it becomes leasing, not renting, you are leasing your gaff not renting a flat. You create a community, and a story, and then filling the building becomes a fait accompli.” 

Fletcher-Smith said, while housing was crucial, it was also important not to forget that new development needed to provide employment space and create jobs.

“One of the biggest risks to London is the loss of small industrial units,” she said. “Yes, we need to build more homes, but we need to avoid creating residential ghettos and look at building space for small industrial companies next to residential schemes.”