LREF: millennials have their say

Property’s next generation are the change agents, delivering new ideas and challenging norms. But is the industry’s old guard taking notice? Rebecca Kent and Emily Wright sit in at an EG round table

The power of property’s next generation goes beyond being tech savvy, according to 30 of the industry’s sharpest rising stars.
Their influence extends to social issues and building innovations as well as within the emerging tech scene with which their generation has become synonymous.
The millennials were speaking at an Estates Gazette round table event, held at the eccentric adventurer-themed Mr Fogg’s Residence in Mayfair – an example of Inception Group’s Charlie Gilkes’s “worst street in the best postcode” approach to navigating London’s rising property prices.
While talk inevitably turned to tech, speakers at the event were quick to point out that
the start-up world is not the only environment within which they can innovate and thrive.
“Playing devil’s advocate here, why is it all about technology?” asked Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ associate director Simon Tonks. “We have it in our power to address real social problems like people without roofs over their heads, homelessness.”
There was some debate over how integral technology is throughout the sector, with some speakers arguing that commercial real estate tech, or CRE tech, is embedded in everything the sector now does.
Others insisted it is not the only thing the next generation should be known for.
“The difference between this industry and tech,” said Matthew McMillan, development director at Boxpark, “is that we build places for people to live that have longevity beyond cycles and the evolution is in the different types of property. The likes of WeWork, The Collective, and the concept of pop-up retail where you have 12-month construction projects instead of five-year projects, show the energy we bring to the sector. We are consuming property differently.”
What the speakers did agree on was that they felt they were being listened to more than ever by senior industry figures.
However, when it came to the actual deals in which significant amounts of money changed hands, the instinct was for the sector to go back to “old, traditional ways”.
But James Rolton, investment executive at British Land, said the tide was turning. “The property industry has had a real ‘Oh god’ moment, I think.
“People listen to what we say now. We have seen a sea change,” he said.
There was debate over whether it was right to pigeonhole the participants into the “next generation” category, especially because they felt already so embedded in the industry.
“We are sitting in this room with 10 to 15 years of experience and to a degree we feel old guard,” said Charlie Wade, managing director, UK, at VTS. “So I think we are in a hybrid position in that we have experience. But we also have dangerously good new ideas, so I feel like we are the most influential age group.”
Katie Metcalf of Gardiner & Theobald added that what defined the next generation was a desire to shape the built environment “unconstrained by thoughts of risk”.
When asked about the biggest challenges or opportunities the next generation faces, Laura La Gal, architect at Make Architects, turned everyone’s attention to the public sector, which can be seen as a less glamorous option for graduates than the likes of Google or Goldman Sachs, with their modern workplaces and work culture.
“Maybe one of the reasons we face so many challenges is because the government and councils are not able to recruit young people with dynamic ideas and the will to change things,” she said.
For Reza Merchant, the man behind co-living and co-working company The Collective, one of the biggest challenges was “not letting red tape, regulation and law get in the way of delivering products and buildings our generation wants and needs. It’s crazy,” he said.

The panel

Sebastian Abigail, tech sector surveyor, Knight Frank

Luke Appleby, co-founder, Kontor

Andy Cox, project manager, Queensberry Real Estate

Brett Davies, development manager – International Quarter London, Leadlease

Paul Eldred, partner, Gardiner & Theobald

Tom Holywell, project director, tp bennett

Laura La Gal, architect, Make Architects

Tim Lowe, founder, Lowe Cost Guardians

Matthew McMillan, development director, BoxPark

Reza Merchant, chief executive, The Collective

Katie Metcalf, partner, Gardiner & Theobald

Katie Moran, marketing and commercial director, Broadgate Estates

Rachel Oldham, partner, Gardiner & Theobald

Tom Redmayne, director of business development UK, Wiredscore

Pamela Reid, development manager, Sellar

James Rolton, investment executive, British Land

Will Tindall, co-founder & director, Emerging Crowd

Simon Tonks, associate architect, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Charlie Wade, managing director – UK, VTS

Chaired by Emily Wright, features and global editor, Estates Gazette