Councils and other groups have to court private investment, says Nick Walkley

The UK’s local and regional leaders have no choice but to attend the Mipim property conference in Cannes if they wish to attract investment to their cities. 

Public sector attendance has long been a source of controversy, with councils having been criticised in the past for using taxpayers’ money to take part in the event which wraps up today. 

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Former Homes England chief Nick Walkley defended the public sector going to the French property show. “The world investment community are here in Cannes,” he said

But former Homes England chief executive Nick Walkley, who left the agency suddenly in 2021 amid rumours of a disagreement with then-housing minister Robert Jenrick, said that attendance remained vital for regions seeking investment. 

“Everybody knows there’s some contention about attending Mipim,” he told Building from the Mipim pavilion run by Avison Young, the real estate consultancy he now works for as president of its strategic advisory team. 

“Having been a public servant, trips to the south of France are a difficult call […] but the alternative side of that is that the world investment community are here and are out in force this year.” 

This year’s festival is the second since its cancellation in 2020 in the wake of the first outbreak of coronavirus, with attendance estimated at around 23,000 – a 15% increase on last year. 


Source: Daniel Gayne

UK investment minister Lord Dominic Johnson visiting the London pavilion at Mipim

Walkley, who was chief executive at Barnet and Haringey councils before joining Homes England, said the pandemic hiatus had forced “a period of reflection” about what firms and public bodies were getting from the festival, resulting in a “much more measured, directed, business case approach”. 

“If you want a conversation about your place and why it is a place worth investing in, this has got to be one of the places you have to be,” he said, adding that the UK’s presence this year was dominated by “high-level delegations focused on the investment opportunities [and] the major developments happening”. 

The UK’s public delegation, led by investment minister Lord Dominic Johnson, included London, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Belfast, Cardiff Capital Region, Newcastle, the West Midlands, West of England and Central South UK, which includes Portsmouth and Southampton. 

Greater Manchester’s delegation included Eamonn Boylan, chief executive of the combined authority, Manchester City Council chief Jo Roney, and Mayor of Salford Paul Dennett. 

Dennett, who is also deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, told Building that the authority’s presence at Mipim was “really, really important”. 


Source: Daniel Gayne

Salford mayor Paul Dennett (centre-right) speaking at a panel event at Mipim’s Manchester stand on Thursday morning

“When we think about what has been happening in Greater Manchester over the last few years, Mipim has certainly been a key vehicle for getting the investment into the city regions,” he said. “To not be here places us at a disadvantage”. 

Seen as being on the left of the Labour Party, former Corbyn backer Dennett could be seen as an odd fit at Mipim, but he stressed that Greater Manchester’s need for private investment had been accentuated by long-term reductions in public investment from central government. 

“We have had 13 years of austerity and growth has been really important to Greater Manchester to try and offset that,” he said.