UKREiiF unites the real estate industry in Leeds

Holistic’s own Sophie Eastwood shares her reflections from this year’s conference and its key themes, trends and takeaways.

On 16-18 May the great and the good of the real estate industry descended on a (sunny!) Leeds for the second instalment of the UK Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREiiF).

With over 7,500 delegates, 20 stages, 500 high-quality speakers and 250 local authorities representing the UK’s major cities and regions, what followed were three days jam-packed with a varied, exciting programme offering everything from networking breakfasts and workshops to a range of fringe events and even a morning run for the sportier delegates. Star Wars fans were in for a treat too as there were sightings of stormtroopers and even Yoda….

Key themes included the future of real estate and construction, levelling up, net zero, inwards investment, social value, infrastructure and housing. It was also great to see more diversity, with female speakers making up almost 50% of the total, a fifth of all speakers identifying as being from a minority background and hundreds of free tickets provided for young people and students.

Our MD Sophie Eastwood was on the ground – also in her capacity as YEP Global Director – and shares the main learnings emerging from the conference.

Government & housebuilding

Sir Bob Kerslake kicked off his opening address by urging the government to reset its relationship with housebuilders, a sentiment that Lord Dominic Johnson CBE echoed in his keynote, saying that the relationship has been a tricky one but that the UK’s acute housing shortage means it’s time to strengthen it. Lord Johnson went on to reaffirm a commitment to support the business community and facilitate investment.

All eyes are still on the climate agenda

Sustainability underpinned everything, particularly the role of real estate in mitigating the climate crisis. While funding was highlighted as a roadblock to a faster road to decarbonisation, there was much talk of the heavy cost of inaction and consensus that we need clarity on when minimum standards will be effected from a legislation standpoint.

There was a big focus on the role of social value within ESG. In one fascinating session, panellists discussed the fundamental challenges of the term ‘ESG’ itself, arguing that grouping it all together isn’t helpful and leads to green and social washing as well as ‘greenhushing’. Chris Skidmore MP stressed that a global climate race is underway and that delivering on net zero in a way that is pro-business and pro-growth is at the heart of meaningful change.

Supporting the next generation

The conference was an excellent platform to give young people a voice. YEP Global hosted its popular YEP Presents series each morning in the EDI & Youth Pavilion, with some fantastic senior industry influencers taking the time to engage with young professionals. In one memorable session, we were lucky enough to interview Tom Riordan CBE, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, who spoke with candour and insight about his journey from care to senior leadership. Tom shared some wise advice with the audience about being persistent in reaching for your goals. Elsewhere, as the conference was in full swing, all nine YEP chapters came together to hold an official UKREiiF fringe event – a brilliant opportunity for the future leaders of property and construction to network.

Investment & Levelling Up

Levelling up was a major topic and, although the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund is a great start to driving opportunity and more inclusive regional economic growth, many commented on the slow progress. Similarly, devolution featured heavily as the only way to create positive change on a local level. Panels also reaffirmed the importance of placemaking (looking beyond just constructing buildings) as the core of successful developments with environmental, economic and social value.

Final thoughts? It was a superb and thought-provoking event with a strong turnout, and one that is fast becoming a staple in the annual real estate calendar. See you back in Leeds for the 2024 edition!