Speech: Marcus Geddes, WPA Chair’s keynote speech from the 2024 WPA AGM Reception

09 May 2024

A very warm welcome to n2 and the Association’s AGM reception. We completed this 165,000 sq ft office building last June, delivering a further piece of our Victoria regeneration masterplan. Fully let up to a mix of new and existing customers within 6 months of completion, we’ve created just the type of workplace environment that high quality employers, who are so critical for powering the City’s growth, need.

Beyond the burgeoning Victoria amenity, specifically at n2 that includes terracing on every level, a 15th floor shared clubroom and South facing terrace, 37 showers, 365 cycle spaces and this generous and flexible space at ground.

The scheme was designed by Lynch architects and delivered by MACE  with whom we were working over very congested subterranean ground that includes two sewers, the Victoria line ticket hall and tunnels that left room for just 18 piles to support the building, including one super pile which at 79 metres deep is the deepest in London.

My first year as Chair has seen the continuation of challenging macro-economic conditions, including high interest rates and high inflation, all of which make delivering this sort of project……. for a profit, extremely challenging.  Scarce development finance will go where policy and political direction are clear and aligned.

The West End, and indeed London’s, success is taken for granted at our peril. I am therefore pleased …the newly re-elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has recognised its importance by setting a new vision for the Central Activities Zone, the CAZ, so that it remains competitive with other global cities. His London Growth Plan sets an ambitious target for an additional 150,000 jobs over four years. He’s going to need the West End to play a big part in delivering that.

Likewise, national government now appears to be finally remembering central London’s key role in supporting the UK economy and the national Labour Party is making clear its pro-growth agenda as it forges ever closer ties with business to help deliver on its electoral promises, should it come to power later this year, as current polling suggests.

Closer to home, Westminster City Council has achieved notable successes in its two years under a new Labour administration….. finally advancing much-needed improvements to Oxford Street and the surrounding districts and tackling the scourge of candy stores. It also has laudable ambitions to ensure more of its residents have access to good jobs and to make Westminster one of the most sustainable cities in the world.

The WPA, with the support of several board member companies, has forged a £255,000 three-year partnership with local charities to help achieve that in addition to the huge amount of existing work that our sector undertakes in this area.

Our partnership with the City Council on its Sustainable City Charter has continued to expand, with signatories taking its collective representation to over 30 million square feet of space. A fantastic achievement, which we are keen to build on with the BIDs in order to widen the pool of occupiers in support.

The West End is the beating heart of the CAZ yielding 60% of its office stock that sits alongside world-class retail and leisure. Whilst many WPA members have increasingly expanded their portfolios in recent years to surrounding areas there remains, I believe, a deep affinity with this critically important part of Westminster.

We all want the West End to succeed. Indeed, London’s success is inextricably linked to it providing the offices, shops, bars, restaurants, cultural attractions and, of course, housing required to maintain its rich eco-system that supports economic and social prosperity.

But when it comes to office development….. a prime consideration of the majority of the WPA’s membership and critical for the creation of good jobs, the unvarnished truth is that since 2019 Westminster has lost 3.7million sq ft of office space.

Our report, produced by Arup, shows how a ‘balanced growth’ approach to planning and policy could unlock 14m square feet of commercial space – more than half (7.7m) comprising offices – alongside 87,000 new jobs, unlocking an annual increase of £31bn in economic output (GVA) by 2045.

Crucially, this would provide an £850m dividend to the council in developer contributions, providing it with the capacity to turn many of its political ambitions into reality.

This would grow Westminster’s economy by nearly a third and deliver the best-in-class sustainable workspaces that global occupiers are seeking – ensuring these jobs and investment come to Westminster, rather than heading elsewhere….to other parts of London in some cases, but in many instances, other parts of the world.

I am confident that through driving forward technological advances in construction and design, the industry will continue to make reductions in carbon emissions generated through development, just as it has done over the last few years. While businesses like Landsec, and many in this room are investing hugely in this, benchmarks on these emissions need to be ambitious, but achievable. They must also fully factor in a building’s emissions throughout its lifespan.

This is why the current Partial Review of the Westminster City Plan is so important, and why the WPA has invested so much resource in our most detailed policy response ever.

From our conversations with councillors, we  share the same objectives for the City in terms of delivering good growth. But our views on how that is achieved vary. Of course, we’re not always going to see eye to eye, and we would do our members, and the City a disservice if we did not clearly spell out the consequences of policies that we believe risk the West End’s unique status as the greatest part, of the greatest city in the world.

Our four core business priorities…. supporting social and economic prosperity, sustainability, inclusion and public-private partnership will continue to make that case over the next year.

In closing I’d like to thank the WPA Board, our members and stakeholders, in particular Westminster City Council, for their continued support and engagement.

I will now hand over to Cllr Ryan Jude, Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology and Culture at Westminster City Council, whom I’m delighted has agreed to provide our keynote this evening. Whilst not directly under his cabinet portfolio, Ryan, as a former investment banker will fully understand both the mobility and risk appetite of investable capital. He has worked at the Green Finance Institute since 2020 and  attended many of the planning workshops the WPA has held with members and officers over recent months. He takes a keen interest in the property sector, so please do join me in giving him a huge welcome.

Further reading:

Insight & resources: WPA Annual Report 2023/24

News & Policy: WPA business priorities 2024/25

Event: WPA AGM Drinks Reception 2024