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Collaboration — more than just a buzzword at UKREiiF 2024

AuthorsIain GambleHelena DaviesKrista Powell

6 min read

True North, Real Estate

Sheffield city centre aerial view

An overwhelming feeling from UKREiiF was that this year was bigger and busier than ever, with three days of informative panels, roundtable discussions and fringe events bringing over 12,000 property professionals together in Leeds. The opportunities to forge new connections and learn from leaders of public and private organisations make it the go-to industry event not only for our northern regions but for the UK overall. 

Here, our real estate Partners Iain Gamble, Krista Powell, Helena Davies and Roy Barry run through one of the main themes from this year’s conference and a core driver of our True North network — collaboration. In its many forms, collaboration was identified as key to tackling some of the industry’s biggest challenges, including the necessity to adopt new technologies such as AI and to use placemaking to build better places to live, work and play.


Planning for the future — partnerships for regional development

Local authorities and business leaders were out in full force, embracing their shared goal of making their cities and towns better places to live. We know that large-scale regeneration and infrastructure projects can take many years to plan and complete, and as such, a long-term but flexible approach should be taken to address the evolving needs of devolving counties and city regions. For example, this could mean looking at our communities to identify opportunities beyond retail, with units earmarked for leisure, community projects, education, health and life sciences instead. 

In doing just that, the relaunch of MIX MANCHESTER at UKREiiF highlighted the power of public-private partnerships. Outgoing Chief Executive of Manchester City Council Joanne Roney walked us through the Joint Venture involving our client, Manchester Airports Group, with the endorsement of Manchester City Council. The partnership will see one of the largest science and innovation campuses focused on advanced manufacturing in the UK set amongst hotels and leisure facilities, right next door to Manchester’s international airport. Not only is this great news for UK industry, but also for the community, bringing with it 8,000 new jobs.

And importantly, we’re seeing improvements in infrastructure that will support such development. The announcement of the Liverpool – Manchester Railway Board promised to be the linchpin for the transformation of travel across our northern cities, through collaboration between local councils and private sector organisations.

Other examples of meaningful partnerships driving regional transformation included Sheffield, which is bringing forward housing growth and leveraging its assets and expertise in advanced manufacturing, health tech and life sciences and Bradford with plans for 1,000 new homes. 


The future of urban centres

When it comes to the regeneration of urban centres, the biggest challenge is often a surplus of retail space — often double the amount needed. Whilst most recognise the need to revitalise and reanimate under-used assets, the question remains who is best placed to drive the change. In theory, local authorities can unlock regeneration by working in partnership with the private sector to repurpose underused land or buildings, but they’re often restricted by budget, leaving a viability gap. 

So, closer collaboration between all stakeholders - from developers to local authorities, central government agencies and other organisations like universities — is essential, as well as public consultation with local residents and businesses. But investment requires clarity and consistency on national infrastructure policy. As we saw with HS2, changing policies and priorities can leave developers out on a limb with expectations changed radically. 

And although almost everyone agrees on the need to deliver net zero, with plenty of positive initiatives brought forward like district heating networks, green walls and roofs on buildings, these are still only happening on a modest scale and so won’t move the dial. Intervention from government and its agencies, for example Homes England, would be welcomed to assist in driving the industry’s efforts in delivering buildings that meet the needs driven by climate change.


Cultural consortia — working with local people

Above all, local people need to feel engaged, involved and listened to as their community is shaped. A roundtable discussion looked at creating and measuring social value through retail, as well as former retail sites being regenerated. 

Organisations should try to build in flexibility in terms of what each unit does, promoting wellbeing and giving local people jobs in the process. The rise in competitive socialising like bowling and mini golf are good examples of this, as well as experiential shopping and community projects. Proving this adds value through tools like Social Value Portal is a great way to attract private investment and future proof assets amid flux in the need for town and city centre shopping.

Another panel session highlighted London’s Canada Water Dockside as a trailblazing example of regeneration centred around culture and social value, with sustainably led buildings designed to connect the public with the water’s edge for the first time, creating water spaces that will provide an important new public amenity. 

The conversation brought to light learnings from Canada Water to be taken forward in our northern cities, looking at how developers can work with local people to understand culture and heritage, presenting it back in a creative way to attract the public. By considering wellbeing and young people’s voices too, they can build a community that’s already invested and provide a legacy for the future.


Collaborative data and digital education

The future of real estate and infrastructure projects will rely on data-led design and the use of AI. But for this to work, there needs to be collaboration between all different holders of data involved in a project as well as upskilling the sector on how to use new and emerging tools. 

A panel discussion highlighted that understanding how data works throughout the planning process is vital for teams to communicate effectively with each other and third parties, especially when using different data models. With the right skills, those involved can ask for information in a different way, speed up the process and build a richer, more data led view of a town or city. And as Ibrahim Ibrahim, Managing Director at Portland, reminded us — making room for creativity can support these efforts.


Driving collaboration as part of the True North Network

The world of property, regeneration and infrastructure has endured a challenging few years, but the industry is emerging from a shallow recession with the wind in its sails. The buzz at this year’s UKREiiF suggests that a new cycle has started, and the industry is as strong and forward thinking as it always has been. 

From using collaborative data to working with local people to ensure that culture is at the heart of projects, we’ve seen that the power of collaboration can’t be understated when it comes to real estate’s role in placemaking and regeneration. We’ll be taking that ambition, energy and budding confidence forward through True North, which has now grown to more than 150 purpose-led organisations. 

If you’d like to join a network of like-minded organisations committed to supporting the future of the North, join our True North network. 

Krista Powell

Krista is a Partner in our real estate team.

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Krista Powell new CLP

Helena Davies

Helena is a Partner, the head of our retail team and a specialist property litigator.

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Helena Davies

Iain Gamble

Iain is a Partner and Practice Group Head of our Real Estate team.

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