Thames Tap editor Alan Bunce summarises TvPropFest on October 13.
When you host 100 property types, a striking new development often makes the ideal venue.
So this year’s TvPropFest was very much at home in the new ‘studio workspace’ that was formerly the restaurant at Campus Reading International.
The refurbishment of the former Reading International Business Park included turning the circular building outside the main block into a collaborative workspace, one which proved remarkably suitable for events.
An exclusive breakfast with speakers was a forerunner to the main event of three sessions, discussing placemaking, film studios and the workplace.
The breakfast event included a reference to the extraordinary working practices at a highly successful tech company called Menlo Innovations where dogs, cats and babies are as welcome as the staff themselves and where their people work in pairs with one computer between them. The firm’s website is worth a look, if only for amusement.
In the first session, four public sector speakers, Alison Webster from the LEP, Cllrs Tony Page and Pavitar Mann, deputy leaders of Reading and Slough borough councils respectively, and Nigel Horton-Baker, chief executive of REDA, all had one thing in common. They all want Western Rail Link to Heathrow to happen.
That was made clear as the session, chaired by Alison Webster, unfolded but so were some lesser known thoughts.
Cllr Mann, who represents Britwell and Northborough, revealed a view of Slough Trading Estate of which many in the property world may have been blissfully unaware.
After a robust speech talking up the town as you might expect, Cllr Mann praised the involvement of trading estate owner SEGRO for the involvement it has been at pains to make in the local community.
The 100-year-old estate has moved on and modernised but residents’ perceptions have felt a knock-on effect which may have gone unnoticed outside the town.
Cllr Mann said: “Historically, looking 40, 30, even 20 years back, they would have seen opportunities, jobs and they would have seen their prosperity – direct benefits they could have had from the trading estate.
“Now the jobs have moved on, the level of skills has moved on and the tech jobs that have come into the estate have moved on. Now they see it as a barrier. So they don’t see themselves benefitting them from what’s on their doorstep.
“Rightly or wrongly it’s the perception about the pace of change that has happened, about the type of jobs on the estate and they feel they are being excluded from the conversation about that pace of change.
“I’ve represented my ward since 2010. I’ve had more correspondence about the activities on the trading estate in the last year than in the previous 11 years. So there really is appetite from residents to know what is going on on their doorstep.”
It was a rare glimpse into the world of a council, despite its well-known troubles, explaining the dilemma of the need to keep both investors and local residents on board.
In a similarly robust promotion of Reading, Cllr Page, got onto the subject of the town’s failed city status bid, a victim, he said, of ‘petty hostility from the Government’.
And he was particularly unimpressed by the award of city status to Milton Keynes.
He said: “With all due respect to Milton Keynes, if Milton Keynes was the answer, what was the question?”
Another perpetual Reading frustration couldn’t be avoided – Reading Gaol and the town’s bid for an arts performance and cultural centre there.
He went on: “Only the incompetence and failing stewardship of the Ministry of Justice stands in our way. And, with a Government in freefall, the chance of the MoJ actually delivering any decision on the future of Reading Gaol this year seems unlikely.”
Those of us who have followed Cllr Page over many years will have been checking the batteries in our hearing aids when he praised the work of Reading West MP and president of COP26, Alok Sharma on climate change.
The two political opponents have had little in common over the years so perhaps a new era of co-operation looms. Or maybe the stunning new Campus workspace studio really has created an atmosphere of collaboration.
Nigel Horton-Baker, chief executive of REDA, pointed many successes of Reading but also to the need to avoid complacency.
“Even though we see statistics like Reading is the fastest growing economy in the UK, it can’t be taken for granted. So we have to work at it.
“It’s like a football team. You’re top of the league, but you can’t not invest in the team, you have to invest and improve the product. The product is Reading in our case so we have to ensure investors want to be a part of the Reading story.”
Immediately thoughts of the Royals being top of the Championship not so long ago, sprung to mind. That didn’t last long but at least the town has a chance to maintain its relative success against rival locations for a bit longer.
Session Two, chaired by DevComms managing director Rob Allaway, was a view into the huge new film studios at Shinfield and the knock-on benefits, which spread into numerous sectors and trades.
Session three, chaired by Jon Gardiner, head of Central London leasing for Savills, returned to the breakfast event theme of the workplace.
Occupiers, said Caroline Pontifex, director of KKS Savills, could not simply reduce their space based on proportion of hours staff were working from home. The need for collaboration space, focus space and desk space meant firms would still need proportionately more – on average 20 per cent.
Strong social spaces and a sense of community were high on the agenda of Alchemy Asset Management when it rewrote the business plan for Campus Reading International.
Director Guy Bishop explained the thinking. He said: “As an asset manager and owner of the property we moved from being a traditional landlord to being an operator.”
For a gallery of images from the day, click here.
Image from session one (l-r): Alison Webster, Cllr Pavitar Mann, Cllr Tony Page and Nigel Horton-Baker.
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