Who are U+I and what is your role?
Our brand is about being forward thinking and innovative. We challenge the status quo. We respect and celebrate heritage and culture. Most importantly, we deliver great places.
We work in partnership with the public sector as it owns an inordinate amount of land in the UK including a large amount in city centres, but it often may not have the capital and expertise to deliver on the value of this land, despite being under enormous political and financial pressure to do so.
So, it is beginning to turn to companies like U+I who are experts in planning, regeneration, involving community and delivering places where people want to live, work and play.
I raise capital to fund our GBP 11bn GDV development pipeline. These mixed-use schemes will be delivered over the next 5 to 15 years, so I help to forge relationships with large global institutions who have long term horizons.
We are located in three core locations – Dublin, Manchester and the wider London City Region (including places like Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge).
How do you create your mixed-use schemes?
Our business model is to work with public sector bodies with land sites, often brownfield, that are degrading, derelict or underutilised. Together we determine the best way to create spaces that bring excitement and energy back to the area.
We also see ourselves as pioneers in ‘meanwhile use’, or, indeed, what we now call “worthwhile use” i.e. making the best use of the space whilst the planning and decision-making process is taking place. For example, at 8 Albert Embankment, we helped curate pop-up museums, local artist workshops and an Institute of Imagination, which has meant that over 50,000 people have visited the site whilst we’ve been going through the planning process. This gives us immediate and detailed interaction with the local community.
What makes you choose a particular location?
We like to concentrate on places that are strong in the Four Ts.
Transport. London has Gatwick and Heathrow – two of the busiest airports in the world. Manchester airport is the third largest airport in the UK and Dublin airport is bigger than Manchester.
Talent. All our focus locations have leading universities which means a young talented workforce will grow and renew on a regular basis. Long-term growth is going to occur in these cities, and this is where international corporations want to be.
Tourism. This turns a place into a 24-hour city – tourists demand entertainment, nightlife, transport and accommodation. These elements create buzz and put you on the map. When I was in Asia recently doing some fundraising, I was blown away by the amount of people who knew all about Manchester. In the context of the world map it is pretty small, but in terms of its international ‘fame’ it is standout city. This may in part be down to Oasis and Premier League football, but international corporations put it high up the list of European cities.
Tolerance. International corporations in the world today want to be in cities that show tolerance for diversity.
And soon we plan to add a fifth T – Technology. So, it may soon be the Five Ts. We are already looking at digital infrastructure and how fast each city is adopting new technology.
Is a new development philosophy taking hold?
In the past it was ‘build and they will come’ but now you have to convince them to come and make sure that they stay. We curate places so people and talent will thrive there over the long-term.
The public sector is waking up to the damaging effects of simply looking for best price out of a PPP scheme. We believe this leads to a race to the bottom where the winning bid invariably has the most aggressive cost assumptions. Instead, the public sector is becoming more pro-active in working with partners such as U+I who focus on value, bring new ideas and concepts to the table, and deliver places that will last for generations because people, young and old can interact, work and live there.
The value we bring is in fixing what is broken rather than patching over it, so that the oxygen of life and jobs can be breathed back into an area.