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Cannes condensed

Attendance at the world’s largest property summit suffered a 50% year-on-year decline last week, and though this had a detrimental effect on the flow of champers and boat hire, it didn’t stop the parties or dampen enthusiasm about forthcoming property investment opportunities, as Louise Nicholson reveals.

Delegate numbers at this year's MIPIM summit were reportedly down 50% to around 15,000, which is perhaps unsurprising given the economic climate.

This was the 20th annual property jamboree in Cannes in the South of France, which is usually recognisable by its mass of marquees along the waterfront. However, this year the coast was left to the grand dames of Cannes to flaunt their wealth alone.

Cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels also noticed the decline in delegate numbers, with most trading under their own names, rather than the companies and firms that normally take them over for four days during the summit. Further, according to one boat owner and a regular at MIPIM, a total of 40 boats had been cancelled with the harbour authority prior to the event.

Sign of the times
For many property firms, MIPIM is all part of the promise of Spring and the market waking up after a quiet period over Christmas and the New Year.

Previously, firms flew in their senior staff from every outpost on the globe, with most deploying teams within the red carpet of the official conference area as well as unofficially outside in the bars and hotels.

There were huge drinks parties, breakfasts, private lunches and dinners. Boats were hired in addition to exhibition space, villas were rented for exclusive entertaining and dancing girls and bands were flown in as agents competed for the hottest ticket in town. By the end of the week everyone was sick of champagne and sickly canapés and longing for a good hot mug of English tea and some plain English cooking. But things have changed a lot in a year.

Even on the third day of the four-day conference delegates were being encouraged to turn up and take advantage of hotel deals. Some 15 hotels were offering up to 40% off their MIPIM prices, the cheapest being Best Western Alba, down from €125 (£116) to €75 (£69) a night and cheaper than the Holiday Inn Bristol Airport in rural Somerset. But I could not persuade the prestigious Martinez to do a deal on its four-bedroom penthouse suite with sea views, which costs €35,000 (£32,000) a night, though not for lack of trying.

Best of the best
The best stand at this year's summit had to be that of property developer Argent, the company behind the development of London's King's Cross, which even replicated a real vegetable garden.

The best position, although outside the red carpet, was snapped up by Savills, which also had a small presence in the Palais des Festivals, the main venue for the summit. Property law firm DLA Piper has occupied the café site for the past three years.

The London Stand was the largest with 118 participants, followed by France and Germany. The largest individual stand was the Krasnodar Region of Russia, which attracted the most delegate interest.
Law firm Lovells hosted the most memorable party of the week, with a band featuring a range of property talent. Led by the firm's head of global real estate, Robert Kidby, who plays the guitar, harmonica and sings, the performance featured Liz Peace, chief executive officer of the British Property Federation, who, rather appropriately, belted out Mary Hopkins' lyrics Those Were The Days, My Friend.

Cushman Wakefield and Jones Laing did not host their usual parties, but Jones Laing, as well as Clifford Chance, Lovells and Colliers, hosted marquee functions on the waterfront.

UK presence
Around 15 UK property agents were represented, including Cluttons, Carter Jonas and Strutt and Parker. The latter two firms had stands, with Knight Frank's surprisingly left unbuilt all week. Of the 200 cities represented at the summit, 50 were UK-based.

The UK was behind the best event of the week, which was hosted by The London Development Agency to introduce its New Urban Agenda. This set out its approach to housing, infrastructure, place-making, climate change and the 2012 Olympics. It featured London Mayor Boris Johnson, who sprinkled his fairy dust of enthusiasm and optimism for London and the Olympics over all those in his trail, as he toured MIPIM like the Pied Piper.

As part of the session, speakers revealed that London was now cheaper to live in than New York, for the first time since 2002, and that Think London, the capital's foreign direct investment company, would be providing overseas companies with up to 12 months' free office space, facilities and support to establish a new London operation.

The mayor announced plans for a major scheme to revamp and revitalise some of London's unique public spaces while Croydon Borough Council used MIPIM to highlight the town's multi-million pound regeneration schemes and to showcase the commercial, retail, residential and cultural opportunities available.

The Stanhope/Schroders Ruskin Square development there, extending over nine acres, will feature 560 residential units, theatre, leisure facilities, cafes, restaurants and a GP's surgery. Two other schemes including towers of 35, 51 and 55 storeys, providing nearly 1,500 apartments, are subject to planning permission.

Meanwhile, Ealing County Council launched a new website to present a range of major regeneration opportunities. It also revealed that property developer St George is about to begin its prestigious Dickens Yard site in central Ealing.

A similarly ambitious Glenkerrin development of the adjacent Arcadia shopping centre site also has the support of the mayor, but is subject to a planning enquiry. Together these would create a £500m new shopping, commercial and residential heart for Ealing, featuring striking designs by top architects such as the Norman Foster Partnership.

The most impressive overseas residential development being promoted at MIPIM was Kalia, a 1500-hectare scheme on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, which boasted the best brochure, most futuristic architecture and some of the greenest credentials of any new-build scheme. Costa Rica, which has seen twice the average global growth of tourism in each of the last five years, has become a top destination for retirees, second-home buyers and tourists. The scheme has 1,500 homes and condos, with prices starting from US$750,000 (£54,000).

Many people had left Cannes by last Friday, but in spite of this and the overall decline in attendees, there was no doubt that the belief remained that real estate, as an asset and worth a reputed €15 trillion (£14 trillion) globally, is here to stay and remains a solid, long-term investment.

Bullish attendees predicted that the market would bottom out in 2009, with Western Europe's Big Five - Germany, the UK, Spain, France and Italy - returning to popularity as investors seek the security of mature markets in preference to the higher returns that have been offered in Eastern and Central Europe over the last few years.

Ironically, Africa did not feature at MIPIM, although this is supposed to be a global event. Representation by both exhibitors and delegates from the continent was poor, which is surprising given that the Fifa World Cup is being held in South Africa in 2010. Perhaps it would be opportune at MIPIM 2010 for the continent to attend and share its market performance.

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