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Grosvenor Britain & Ireland boss speaks out against developers Article 6

Developers less popular than drug dealers says industry chief speaking at Olympia event 

Craig McWilliam, Chief Executive at Grosvenor Britain & Ireland was keynote interview with John Gravett, Head of Real Estate Management at Cluttons at a recent event held at Olympia, West London. 

The senior executive caught the audience’s attention speaking about some recent research he had seen that: “Showed people thought the development sector was worse than drug dealers in its effect on local spaces and highlighted the lack of trust people have for developers and planning.” 

Craig McWilliam’s view is based on first hand commercial experience.  In February 2019, Southwark planners rejected plans submitted by Grosvenor, citing affordability issues around the project to build a build to rent scheme in Bermondsey at a cost of £500 million. 

Grosvenor intends to promote the benefits of a BTR scheme it feels doesn’t fit the normal economics of development in London, where building lots of expensive flats for sale subsidises affordable units. Mc William said: “We’ll continue to see whether there’s a way of increasing understanding of the benefits of the scheme, whether with the greater London authority or with Southwark. It is a tough problem, but one the development world simply has to solve.

Speakers at the event made the point that, ‘cities across the UK need development to accommodate a growing population and provide living and work space that this creates to maintain and boost the country’s economy.’ 

Mr McWilliam commented on the importance of: “Establishing trust between communities and developers responsible for building major residential projects in their local areas. He believes a change of approach and mind set is required, not only from developers but from local authorities.   

 “People love the spaces that are created, but they distrust the process, and that holds us back from fulfilling our purpose,” said Craig McWilliam CE at Grosvenor Britain & Ireland 

Mr McWilliam urged political leaders to emphasise the benefits of new development.  

“People see new developments that are going up and believe it’s all about luxury flats, that developers are the ones to profit and the local authority has cajoled into agreeing development.  If a school receives funding as part of a new scheme, then the benefit is often taken by the local authority and the community doesn’t see the benefit as coming from developers. Public leaders should use their platform to explain how development brings wider community benefits.”  

The Grosvenor Britain and Ireland Chief executive went on to highlight that: “The property  industry must make the case for what it does, engaging better with local communities, particularly those people who might not have previously engaged with the development process, empowering them with knowledge, rather than relying on a small group of objectors with limited information.” 

The importance of social media was raised as a way of pushing beyond the typical consultation meetings by utilising social media and apps, to get its message out to people unable or not prepared to attend meetings.  

Grosvenor is undertaking an experimental large-scale survey of what people like and dislike about the planning process. From this poll it will take the findings and apply the lessons to one particular scheme to see if it can improve its engagement with people.  

Lloyd Lee from Yoo Capital who is involved in a joint venture with partner Deutsche Finance to redevelop the Olympia exhibition venue at a cost of £700 million in West London, comments: “Meeting face-to-face is an essential tool in engaging with the communities around major new development.  We undertook 63 days of community engagement during the planning process and when Mrs Jones from round the corner called us up to say she couldn’t make a meeting, we opened up a 30K SF hall just for her the next day. It takes time, but people are learning to trust us.”  

Lee said Yoo and Deutsche Finance had opened up the space to allow access to local theatre and community groups, and that even though it had now received planning consent for the scheme, it was continuing the consultation process to keep local residents informed.  

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