We are the Infrastructure and Urban Development Council
The former ULI UK Infrastructure and Regeneration council has been renamed the Infrastructure and Urban Development Council.
Held entirely online for the first time, this year’s ULI UK Annual Conference saw an international panel of built environment experts come together to discuss how global challenges such as climate change, societal shifts, technological advances and, of course, COVID-19, are shaping the industry.
The key question underpinning the entire conference was, “What does normal mean anyway?”.
One of the main themes in this year’s conference was the sector’s ever-increasing use of technology.
Sustainability was another reoccurring topic, with many speakers referencing the importance of reaching zero-carbon targets.
ULI U.K. Executive Director, Sarah Musgrove, started the proceedings by asking, “How can the real estate industry shape the future while focusing on affordability, connectivity, and livability?”.
The first keynote speaker was Somik Lall, economist and the World Bank’s global lead for territorial and spatial development.
Speaking of how the World Bank faces issues caused by Covid-19, Somik said that predicting contagion by using a geographic lens was key.
“We also need to focus on building economic density, this will put cities on the vanguard of recovery”, he said.
Somik listed numerous essentials to reshape density, enhance livability, and “build back better”. These included simplifying the planning process, making density regulations compatible with incomes, strengthening the capabilities of local authorities, securing land and property rights, and, “striving for blue skies” by upholding climate change commitments.
Next, Lisette van Doorn, CEO of ULI Europe, sat down with Mariya Tsvetkova, Co-Chair of ULI U.K. Young Leaders, to discuss both emerging and future trends in the sector.
Delegates heard that Covid-19 had not only established new trends, but also accelerated existing ones, as seen with the increased use of technology in the industry and a “renewed focus” on sustainability.
Lisette also called for further public and private sector partnerships, noting that if these are to succeed then a heightened degree of transparency is essential from both sides.
The next session looked to answer how the built environment could face the future with certainty, amidst the new Covid-19 dominated ‘normal’.
Tom Cartledge, CEO of Benoy, said that investors, developers and designers needed to think more laterally about the places they create.
“There have been a lot of changes in the built environment, particularly from a placemaking perspective, [and] we need to account for these changes.”
“We should start viewing public finance as an opportunity. We should take confidence from how quickly the Chinese market bounced back, but also that we have a government that is finally understanding the importance of the levelling-up process.”
Bek Seeley, Managing Director at Lendlease, said that the biggest thing to give back to communities was to further the skills agenda.
“The issues of unemployment mean the youth are feeling the brunt. We need to address the skills deficit and develop them for young people”.
Rhian Windbridge of Google Real Estate was asked what keeps her awake at night.
“Making things happen”, she answered.
Rhian highlighted the industry necessity of being savvy when it comes to utilising space, particularly from a multipurpose, monetary and sustainable perspective.
Joe Reeves, Executive Director of Finance and Growth at Midland Heart housing association, said that there were currently two opportunity areas for real estate firms to develop and expand.
“The first is the digital shift for customers and ensuring they have hyper-convenience, such as reporting repairs on properties that are needed. The second is sustainability and upholding this with stakeholder expectations and government policy.”
He further emphasised, “The retrofit process will be huge. We have to think about the tech we can use to get our properties up the sustainability ladder”.
The final session of the day explored how cities across the U.K. are adapting to the effects of climate, technological, health, and social disruptions in their communities.
“There are four million people whose jobs depend on high carbon producing businesses. The universities in these regions need to be the pioneers of addressing this. Support them and venture capital will come,” said Neil Rami, chief executive at West Midlands Growth Company.
Philip McCann, Chair in Urban and Regional Economics at Sheffield University Management School, acknowledged the need for levelling-up to bring people together. He also recognised the “danger COVID-19 poses to widening yield gaps between more and less prosperous cities”.
The conference ended with a positive look towards the future;
“To take advantage of the opportunities that have come from this crisis, we must ensure we have dynamic leadership and we must ensure we tackle these issues with integrated responses”, said Sarah Musgrove.
“Although the future is uncertain, there are a lot of lessons to be learnt coming out of this crisis and opportunities that we can build upon.”