An annual event in Cambridge’s commercial property calendar breathed new life into an old debate – so says Ben Green who heads Barker Storey Matthews’ now part of Eddisons agency in the city.
The (Estates Gazette Question Time) series rolled into Cambridge again earlier this month (15 November) and injected a most-welcome international perspective on the parochial, perennial preoccupations of property professionals in the city.
It was John Miu, Chief Operating Officer of Chinese real estate developer (ABP London), who injected fresh energy to the debate about ‘Brand Cambridge’, its place within UK plc and on the world stage. He was ably supported by more familiar, indigenous business professionals on the panel.
Amid what could have been a doom and gloom discussion about uncertainty pre- and post-BREXIT deal, John Miu reassured all in the hall that the UK would remain resilient in attracting international investment.
He explained the enduring attractiveness of London as a financial centre set, as it is, within the UK which has a strong legal system. It is too easy to take for granted the robustness of our legal and administrative infrastructure if you’ve neither known – nor tried to do business within – any other framework.
We are in danger of forgetting how attractive hundreds of years of, more or less, stable and continuous parliamentary democracy and the august institutions it has engendered are to foreign investors.
While there was no counterpoint to this observation during the debate, some of the administrative and democratic authorities here did come in for criticism.
Property’s greatest lament is the planning system.
There was general support for local authority review and reform to cut through the many tiers of planning bureaucracy and land supply issues. None of the panel – nor attendees in the room – spoke up in support of a Cambridge Development Corporation to lead the charge against the causes of planning lag.
It was interesting to get ABP’s perspective on planning too. In canvassing the Chinese view of the UK’s many layers of bureaucracy, the Chair – David Hatcher, Estates Gazette’s Head of News & Finance – chuckled along with the rest of the room when John Miu confirmed he was told about it but wasn’t really prepared for the experience.
Attendees were encouraged to look quite far ahead in the future in considering transport and associated infrastructure issues.
In referencing proposals for a Cambridge underground metro system, one panel member commented that it was a ‘Victorian solution’ to a future problem. There was no audible dissent from the floor, by all accounts.
Far from dissent, there appeared to be the quiet acceptance and accommodation of the view that transport in, around and across Cambridge would involve driverless cars.
A view expressed also called for employers to step up to the plate in funding ‘public’ transport solutions to getting their employees in to and out of Cambridge in good time, and in the best frame of mind to be happily productive.
Perhaps the most ‘sticky’ problem when it comes to Cambridge is how far the Cambridge effect affects and benefits Cambridgeshire up to, and including, Wisbech and the county’s other city, Peterborough.
There is a view that the natural growth and expansion of office space in Cambridge in the coming 20 to 30 years will, by a process of osmosis, market forces and development pressure, see this county’s fine market towns benefit from the Cambridge brand when it comes to commercial and residential development.
At the Question Time session, there was a general acceptance that Cambridge’s expansion needs close direction and strong leadership. It is a balancing act to ensure that the quality of what attracts indigenous or international investment here remains as undiluted as the quality of life experienced by the people whom companies need to employ.
In summary, the East of England is full of promise but it needs to fulfill those promises. Current and coming generations of young talented professionals are mobile and have a global view. If Cambridge can’t give them what they are looking for, then other international destination cities will.
In 2017, Barker Storey Matthews now part of Eddisons was identified as the most active regional property agency in the East of England for the fourth year running and the most active agent in Cambridgeshire for the sixth consecutive year by Estates Gazette.
For more information about office availability in and around Cambridge, contact Ben Green, 01223 467155, [email protected]