Starting this Wednesday, 4,000 men (and, yes, they’ll mainly be men) will gather in a giant hall in London. Among them will be major property developers, billionaire investors and officials of your local council or one nearby. And what they’ll discuss will be the sale of public real estate, prime land already owned by you and me, to the private sector. The marketing people brand this a property trade show, but let’s drop the euphemisms and call it the sales fair to flog off Britain.
For the past 25 years, this conference – Mipim for short – has been held in Cannes. It’s a jaunt so lavish as to be almost comic – where big money developers invite town hall executives for secret discussions aboard private yachts, and whose regulars boast that they get through more champagne than all the liggers at the film festival.
Suitably oiled-up, local officials open talks with multinational developers to sell council housing estates and other sites. All this networking is so lucrative for the builders that they even fly over council staff. Last year,Australia’s Lend Lease paid for Southwark’s boss, Peter John, to attend Cannes. This is the same Lend Lease to which Southwark sold the giant Heygate estate at a knockdown price: 1,100 council flats in inner London to be demolished and replaced with 2,500 units, of which only 79 will be for “social rent”.
Events such as Mipim raise the flag on the land grab that eventually leads to thousands of people being kicked out of their homes – and in many cases out of London. It is a forum that relies on invitation-only lunches, secret talks and the public being kept well away. In a shamefully undemocratic development system, this is one of the most untransparent forums of the lot.