“Crisis? What crisis?” London leaders highlight ESG investment opportunities

London is working hard to rebuild its reputation – both at home and abroad. But is this a chance for the capital to redefine itself, drive the ESG agenda and strengthen our relationships with other cities across the UK?

With a number of companies recently snubbing the London stock exchange and choosing to list elsewhere, there are fears that London is less appealing to investors than rival cities abroad.

The push for rapid economic recovery after Covid hit London hard has revealed an opportunity to tackle the structural challenges, by building the green economy and narrowing the social, economic and health inequalities.

We invited some of London’s senior leaders to consider how these crises could be turned into an opportunity to renew the city and address some fundamental problems, such as the lack of genuinely affordable housing.

On the panel were Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council; Olaide Oboh, Director at Socius; and Kate Ives, Strategic Growth Director at Countryside Partnerships.

Opportunity has to start with community

The increasing importance of Economic, Social and Governance criteria (ESG) dominated the discussion. Darren Rodwell explained that London’s diversity, and position as a global city, means that there’s always an opportunity for investors in London. But this investment has to meet the needs of its communities and deliver inclusive growth.

Kate Ives shared her insight into the ways in which shareholder interests and community needs are aligning around the ESG agenda. Countryside Partnerships are now looking into how they can measure the success of a development project so that the investment outcomes have positive benefits for both shareholders and the local community.

“As an industry, we need to do more work and research – with universities, with public-sector colleagues and so on – to drive the ESG platform so that we really create impact for London’s communities.”

Kate Ives, Countryside

Now is the time for London to redefine itself…

“We need to make big, bold moves to redefine how London is seen and experienced,” argued Olaide Oboh. Investor confidence has slowed down post-Brexit. Productivity is low compared to other cities. And the capital is facing significant social, economic and environmental challenges such as inequality, a lack of affordable housing and poor air quality.

But tackling these issues is an opportunity to innovate and become a testbed for new ideas, and redefine the city as a knowledge hub. For Darren, these innovation opportunities are in media, data, science, engineering and logistics.

“Silicon Valley is the only place in the world bigger than London tech-wise. But it shouldn’t just be Kings Cross and Old Street that benefit – these opportunities should be in LB Barking & Dagenham too, as we’ve shown with the huge film studios we’re building there.”

“We are fixated on numbers. It’s true that there’s a housing crisis. But we should be focussing less on just numbers and more on innovation so that we can use our infrastructure to test creative responses to addressing the major challenges we face in housing, public space and ESG.”

Olaide Oboh, Socius 

…and renew our relationships with the UK’s other core cities.

Jamie Carswell, RB Greenwich, asked the panel how London can help rebuild the consensus so that other UK cities see London’s prosperity as theirs too. But the reality is different to the rhetoric, argued the panel.

“At a local government level, leaders already know that we’re all in the same boat,” said Darren. “It’s national politics that are playing out in a way that’s behind the curve.”

All of our panellists agreed that cross-sector, cross-party, collaboration is key to driving the investment that London needs, restoring trust in the development industry and forging opportunities from crisis.

Find out more about our Leading through Crisis series here.

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Thanks to our sponsors, Countryside Partnerships, Be First and LB Barking & Dagenham, and to SEC Newgate for hosting the event.