I am by no means a Mipim regular, and my first impression on arrival at this year’s Cannes jamboree was that a large section of the UK had been displaced en masse to the south of France. The number of English voices contributing to the hubbub in the busy cafés around the Palais des Festivals made for an odd collision of familiar and foreign.
Thankfully, there is more to Mipim than the chance to talk shop with fellow Brits under bluer skies. As the event progressed, I was happy to make the acquaintance of delegates from further afield.
Though again, there was more than a hint of home about the conversations. At a lunch organised by Swiss Life Asset Managers, I sat between Swiss and German nationals and the three of us found common ground bemoaning the state of local planning departments.
A lamentable lack of digitisation, slow-turning bureaucratic wheels, arbitrary rules and unpredictable decision-making based on politics and nimbyism are not peculiarly British complaints, if the grumbles of my lunch neighbours are any guide. I nodded along sympathetically in the middle.
There is, I supposed, some comfort in hearing that not even the Swiss can make planning tick along with the precision and predictability of a trusty timepiece.
Swiss Life group chief investment officer Stefan Mächler told me that gaining planning permission to make sustainability improvements to existing assets can be just as difficult in Paris or Zurich as it is in London. The result leads to a schism between national decarbonisation policies and local decision making, with one apparently seemingly at odds with the other, he suggested.
In a speech at the lunch, Mächler expressed the optimistic hope that current macroeconomic difficulties might actually favour firms that can apply some “craftsmanship”, as he worded it, to the task of improving assets or developing new ones. He contrasted that with the past decade of low-cost debt, in which rewards were not always aligned to diligent skill. This is an argument I’ve heard several times now back in the UK.
It is heartening to hear that this theory spans borders, though alas that doesn’t mean we can take it to the bank.
Several people I met at the show were Mipim regulars, able to take a long view of the industry’s ups and downs. IWG chief Mark Dixon told me he first came to the show 34 years ago, and in his opinion, the pace of change has accelerated dramatically of late, with commercial real estate “transforming out of all recognition” due to new technology.
Anna Tsartsari, co-founder of consultancy BE Design, made a similar point, telling me that Mipim trod a familiar path for years and then suddenly, last time, was all about net zero. This year’s hot topic is how technology might help to actually deliver net zero, she added.
Flying to Cannes to talk about net zero is not without irony, of course.
But it’s unarguable that the big challenges facing the property sector are universal, and hopefully a forum where knowledge is pooled can help. As the climate crisis reminds us, we all live on one small, blue planet. And we must work together to sustain it.
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