Ben Derbyshire AJ MIPIM Blog Picture 1 Ben Derbyshire AJ MIPIM Blog Picture 2 Ben Derbyshire AJ MIPIM Blog Picture 3 Ben Derbyshire AJ MIPIM Blog Picture 4

Daily MIPIM Updates Reported on AJ

The journey begins.

I estimate it must be 20 years since my first visit to MIPIM in Cannes. As I pack for this year’s trip, forgive me as I plagiarise the voiceover of the trailer for March of the Penguins 2:

‘Ten years on [20 in my case]… The epic journey… A new adventure awaits… the harshest place on Earth [ok, the forecast is sunshine but it does sometimes rain]… The family finds a way [it certainly feels like a gathering of the clan]… March of the Penguins – The Next Step… cue Symphonia Antarctica’

Of course there are misgivings. The only reason we indulge in this unsustainable annual migration is because everyone else does – FOMO, as I’m told they call it these days, turns out to be a powerful force. This year, we are told housing minister Kit Malthouse may show up on Thursday, but otherwise, and with splendid irony, as the government’s attempts to extricate us from the EU continue to stall, it seems that the failure of the political class to reach agreement will see them miss out. Despite the apparently self-defeating behaviour of the penguins, the march goes on. So off we go again. Mind you, this year the Nice tram extension will at least connect the airport to the train station – so there really is no need to spend €100 on a cab. Looking forward to trying it.



Arriving at Cannes. My first gig is the Monday night supper for the practices participating on this year’s RIBA stand. This year there are 35 practices of varying sizes, and it feels really good to have such a solid representation of the profession. It’s an endorsement of the RIBA that some who have been attending for years have chosen to join the mission. There was a permanent, healthy bustle around the RIBA stand last year and that clearly has not gone unnoticed.
If I’m right, this could be the beginning of something more significant post-Brexit. The RIBA already organises trade missions in combination with the Department for International Trade, and we are increasingly working towards an international strategy in collaboration with the British Council. Meanwhile, I have been leading on global alliances with institutes around the world, so the RIBA can more effectively argue the case for the profession’s involvement in tackling climate change. So as president, to have the backing of such a substantial delegation feels like a big boost.

Mind you, I’m challenged as to what to say about our nation’s effort to build bridges rather than reinforce borders, as I give my welcoming address to the 60 or so representatives of our mission. All I can really say is that the debate back home in Westminster the very next day had better live up to its billing as a ‘meaningful vote’. Our government has delivered nothing at all meaningful so far, in the sense that it has given us certainty to plan for. So, hey, here we all are in Cannes waiting to hear what they have in mind for us. At least the sun’s out.


Tomorrow, I start the day on a panel to discuss ‘Housing The Powerhouse’ in the Sheffield stand. MIPIM attracts more and more local authorities competing for attention with bigger and bigger stands. London and Manchester are now joined by the West Midlands Combined Authority all with their own marquees. Later in the week, I’m talking on the Liverpool stand with Paul Monaghan lately appointed as the city’s design adviser.

Over lunch, I chair a discussion with some of the smaller practices in the RIBA delegation about their struggles with public procurement – more of that later. Then, in the afternoon, I welcome my partners on the Club Pelloton ride arriving at the quayside in Cannes. Riette Oosthuizen, our planning partner is the first woman from the HTA team to make the trip by bike. Sandy Morrison, an old hand, is somehow finding the time to sketch on the stopovers. You can check his output @SandysDrawings.

I’m told efforts are being made to curb excesses of machismo on the ride – backing off pressure on the less athletic to take time out in the backup bus. Me, I’d rather take up David Lunts’ suggestion of a gentle downhill ride from Aix en Provence. Still, the HTA crew have managed to raise £35,000 for the Coram Foundation.

Day 1.


Chris Dyson arrives in Cannes by train from Genoa after a fall from his bike on the Bari route of the Club Peloton cyclists. Conditions for cyclists have been challenging every day since their departure, until today when at last the wind subsided. We hear reports of a woman rider in hospital overnight, but thankfully she’s not badly hurt.

At the Sheffield City Region headquarters I represent the RIBA on a panel to discuss delivering sustainable placemaking and quality housing where relatively low values challenge viability. Beforehand, I learn from chief executive, John Mothersole, that the city’s strategy rests on creating high-quality manufacturing jobs, building on a legacy of steelmaking skills that persists. Clive Betts, veteran MP for Sheffield South East, now chairs the MHCLG Committee on Modern Methods of Construction. As a parting shot in my evidence to the committee on behalf of the RIBA, I suggested that Sheffield ought perhaps to mount a Housing Expo to demonstrate the benefits of innovative manufacture to quality housing delivery – maybe not so far off the mark?

The RIBA stand at MIPIM is really heaving, I must say; besieged with enquiries. If the number of participating practices continues to increase at the current rate, this could perhaps mean as many as 50 participating in the mission this time next year. As the Department for International Trade is sponsor of our mission, it occurs to me that we may be approaching the point where a move to the DIT marquee may be appropriate. I think if we were to mount a programme of discussion and discourse in the government tent, we may well be on track to delivering useful synergies with its remit to sell the talent that exists in UK plc.

At lunch, I host a group including two other AJ bloggers, Tarek Merlin of Feix & Merlin (on the RIBA stand) and Claire Bennie of Municipal. The topic is the search for public procurement that does not discriminate against SME practices. We are joined by the deputy chief executive of Homes England and Simon Allford of AHMM who, as ever, is full of creative thinking. We agree to work together on a model of collaborative practice that might stand a better chance of appealing to local authority employers. Some tough love in the discussion, held on Chatham House rules, pointing out that nobody owes architects any favours and that small practices must offer something of genuine value to hard-pressed public employers. No doubt there will be other perspectives from my blogging companions.

Alan Vallance and I host a small private dinner for local authorities this evening, so we’ll try out the thinking from lunch. I can see it may be hard to keep off developments unfolding in Westminster with the ‘meaningful vote’. As I sit in the HTA villa writing this, BFM ‘NonStop’ TV news reports that exports of Champagne to the UK have hit record levels! This, in between headlines such as, ‘Brexit: La dernière carte de May’. To coin a phrase, ‘Sodom, for Gomorrah we die!’

Day 2.


On Tuesday evening, RIBA CEO Alan Vallance and I hosted a supper to discuss the opportunity for our great cities to excel in successful placemaking. It’s a great guest list from Liverpool (Paul Monaghan, Liverpool City Region design champion) Leeds, Derby and Birmingham. Pat Brown of the LFA (among other things) and the excellent Victoria Hills of RTPI, were there too.

I’m struck that the Manchester stand at MIPIM somehow conveys civic leadership in a most confident and convincing way. It is completely devoid of models, sales material and developer PR of any kind. Instead, there are giant portraits of city luminaries of recent years on the approach to the entrance. Organised around a small circular bar, there are three almost empty but very generously proportioned and well lit spaces; one for formal presentation and debate, with rows of benches; a space for networking, decorated only with super-graphic signage; and an area with comfortable booths for informal meetings. It’s all about people and interaction, not so much about commerce, but I bet it’s effective.

As we dine, I make a bet with Victoria Hills over the outcome of the ‘meaningful vote’ and I win, as it turns out. RIBA will be issuing a press release first thing. We are calling for the government to vote against the disaster of leaving the EU without a deal, and for a delay to Article 50. But while I win my bet with the CEO of the RTPI, I fear that the real winners of this confusing and uncertain outcome will be thin on the ground.


This morning, at the Department of International Trade marquee, we announced the local authorities who have selected to take part in our Future Place programme. At the outset of my presidency I was determined to work collaboratively at RIBA in pursuing my theme of quality and performance in the built environment. So soon after my election I went to see Lord Richard Best, and after meetings with potential partners at The House of Lords, my office at HTA Design and the RIBA we hit upon an action research project, working up the detail with the Chartered Institute of Housing, Royal Town Planning Institute and the Local Government Association. More recently Homes England has joined the project, and we are in discussion with other prospective contributors.

We thought it important to avoid yet another report. We will instead focus on working alongside five towns, chosen from fifty or so submissions, supplementing their resources with ours, building an information platform to help others with ambitious vision for quality placemaking and celebrating their success as a way of demonstrating the approaches and resources necessary for success. It’s a great credit to RIBA’s Lucy Carmichael and Carmen Mateu that we were able to announce the places simultaneously at MIPIM and at the LGA conference, in the presence of the Secretary of State today. Anyone with any experience will know just how hard it is to come up with shared objectives and criteria between four membership organisations such as ours. But how worthwhile it has been.

There was huge enthusiasm from our chosen partners for the opportunity to work together, hopefully to prove the point that proactive, community based planning, involving planners and designers in a cross-sector partnership is the way to build community well-being. I really look forward to working with the people of Bradford, Greater Exeter, Great Yarmouth, Gateshead and Northamptonshire. Future Place is up and running.


The Future Places project was simultaneously launched in MIPIM and at the Local Government Association annual Conference in London. The project highlights the need to invest more delegated powers and resources from central Government to Local Planning Authorities to help develop their visions and allow them to get on and plan for the well-being of existing and future residents.

Feeling pretty good about that, I went on to host a panel in the Midlands Region marquee addressing how to improve the supply of housing with improved quality and diversity. Handy that the Spring Statement included the news that Sir Oliver Letwin’s report has been accepted by the Government. Less good news is that the investment behind the policy is nothing like adequate to compensate for the impacts of Brexit.

After a session on the London stand with Sir Eddie Lister and others on the question of delivering ‘Good Growth’, I make my way to the really lovely beach party thrown by my practice, HTA Design. Around the headland to the west of Cannes’ old harbour, this takes place in a glorious setting with the sun going down over the bay – a really lovely way to reward the effort of the day with a few glasses of local rosé.

The MIPIM/Architectural Review Future Projects Awards are a glamorous international affair held this year in the basement ballroom of the Marriot hotel on La Croissete. Our host for the supper was the redoubtable Paul finch, who rattled through the announcements forbidding vainglorious speeches and shushing any outbreaks of chatter amongst diners with ruthless efficiency. Paul Finch concluded his remarks with the thought that no matter how febrile things are between UK & EU, international architectural celebrations remind us we are a global profession. And in the course of the proceedings I was rewarded with the news that MPs have seen sense and ruled out (hopefully) the prospect of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

Day 3.

Wrapping Up.

Just about wrapped up the last day, I fly on Friday – sadly too early to make Tom Bloxham’s party. But we meet with Tom and Urban Splash partner Jonathan Falkingham in the Manchester stand to discuss ways that we might stimulate more patronage for modern methods of construction from Government, and hatch a plot to work together with Mark Farmer and others to make progress outside London. There is plenty of appetite for this. Cities and city regions are cottoning on to the potential for mapping their industrial and economic development strategies onto the need for local design and production to meet housing need in innovative ways. The idea came up in discussions with Sheffield, West Midlands and Liverpool as well as Manchester.

The amazing thing about this patently absurd mass migration to the Cote D’Azure, is that it’s possible to have meetings or make presentations, as I have done today, in all these regional cities in one afternoon as all the key players from each are on stands or in marquees a minute or so away from each other. And everyone is here for the sole purpose of meetings, so they are both in close proximity and generally available. And then there are the serendipitous encounters in between.

My parting thought is that this fruitful juxtaposition deserves better planning and design. I’ve told my RIBA colleagues that we should bring the UK cities together into a coherent masterplan for which we should hold a competition. At the centre of the plan should be the Department of International Trade which could be the subject of a design competition all of its own. Manchester has shown the way – if you want to sell high quality development – you have to sell it in a high quality environment. Just ask Tom Bloxham.

Source: MIPIM 2019: The AJ Blog