Divisive times demand strong, long-term collaborations

As EG reveals the first names on its 2017 Collaborators list, Mishcon de Reya partner Susan Freeman reiterates why it is important to work together.

I had the privilege of attending both the Labour and Conservative Party conferences again this year to co-host our Mishcon de Reya Property Shapers dinner debates alongside the London Communications Agency. The theme of both dinners, at which our guests included council leaders, property developers and thought leaders, was around whether collaboration or conflict marks the way forward.

There’s nothing quite like observing politics in action at close range to lend a useful perspective on the growing practical importance of collaboration and partnership.

The EG Collaborators initiative was born out of the first MIPIM UK at Olympia where we were engaged in a lively roundtable debate on the future of London against the noisy backdrop of a vociferous crowd of anti-developer protestors. Safely inside the event, we agreed that what the protestors outside were saying was not that different to the discussion going on inside. Clearly, the real estate sector just wasn’t getting its message across to the men and women in the street. The Collaborators was an attempt to respond to this in a way that both promoted and rewarded efforts at collaboration and partnership in the built environment, where “two and two made five”.

Now, three years on, the need for collaboration could not be greater, as evidenced by the lively discussions around our party conference dinner tables – whether it’s between the public and private sector; central and local government; London and other UK cities and their mayors; or between London and the rest of the UK.

There is also now a need for collaboration between the real estate sector and tech in order to bring to life the innovation that is needed. It was clear at the party conferences that we urgently need collaboration and understanding between the generations, as the under 30s increasing feel they have been sold out by their parents’ generation.


Now, better collaboration between the public and private sector and across the political divide seems more immediately important than ever if we are going to tackle issues such as housing.

There was wide praise for London deputy mayor for housing and residential development James Murray for attending our Conservative conference dinner in Manchester as well as our Labour conference dinner in Brighton (where he was the first to utter the “collaboration” word, stating that he wants to work in collaboration with councils, housing associations and housebuilders).

Sitting around the table with Conservative councillors and leaders at the Manchester dinner it was clear the importance for London that council leaders and mayors of different politics can work together with the London mayor for the benefit of London and Londoners. At the recent launch of the interim National Infrastructure Assessment, Andrew Adonis suggested that the collective noun of mayors is a “can do”. Or a “Khan do” as our London mayor prefers to describe it. Let’s hope so.

Relationships, not one-night stands

Pat Brown, chief executive of Central, and the person responsible for introducing to the UK the ultimate collaboration that is business improvement districts, commented perceptively at our Labour conference dinner that real estate development is about relationships and vision. She asked: “How do we create relationships and not one-night stands?”

“It takes time to create places’, she said. “How do we convert and inspire more people?” How indeed. She also suggested that collaboration between local authorities and developers often isn’t understood and is not communicated properly.

“Collaboration can be interpreted as in the pocket of the developer,” she added.

Better messaging

So, getting back to the original impetus for the Collaborators initiative, we clearly need to do better at getting across our messaging around the real estate sector’s key role in creating places.

An issue which compounds the negative view of developers was encapsulated by Professor Tony Travers at one of our dinners. The politicians, he said, have been clever in outsourcing responsibility to the developers for providing new housing and the developers now take the blame for failure to build enough housing. Is there a problem with the brand of developers and how can it be improved?

We need strong, long-term collaborations and partnerships to help counter the conflict in these particularly polarised times. With divisions created by wealth, Brexit, London’s role, politics and generational divides, we will more than ever rely on collaborations to bring us together.

In the words of Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company: “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”