In Conversation: Liz Peace

Liz Peace

We regularly speak to some of London’s leading figures from within the property, investment, finance and charity sectors.

Those we have spoken with recently include Sonal Shah, Executive Director of The Capital Community FoundationChristopher Hamer, The Property Ombudsman, and Richard Blakeway, Mayoral Advisor on Housing.

Today we talk with Liz Peace, Chief Executive at British Property Federation.

What exactly does the BPF do?
We are quite simply a lobbying organisation, representing the interests of the commercial property industry, principally to Government but also to any other body that has the ability to influence how effectively – or not – my members are able to do their business. The EU is having a growing influence over UK policy making, particularly in the financial services sector.

The BPF seems to place more emphasis on the residential sector than ever?
Surprisingly we have always had a strong residential cadre within the BPF, what I call the commercial residential sector, because they are mainly concerned with investing in residential property to rent to occupiers. That has become more significant over the past 10 years because of the rising cost of home ownership, the greater flexibility of people’s lifestyles and the growing demand for homes.

Indeed, even the institutions seem finally to be waking up to the investment possibilities of the private rented sector. Also, commercial property investors and developers are now more likely than not to be involved in residential or at the very least mixed use. All of which makes it important that we take a growing interest in residential matters.

What are the current priorities for the BPF?
We are very focussed on George Osborne’s growth agenda and what the property industry can do to play its part, particularly in terms of providing the places that businesses of all sizes will need to develop and grow. That has led us into things like TIFs, and business rate policies, particularly Empty Property Rates; we have been lobbying treasury hard on changes to the REIT regime – which should help residential; we are still lobbying hard in Europe on the AIFMD and EMIR; we have been closely involved with the Coalition on the Localism Bill and now the National Planning Policy Framework; we are inputting to the Portas review of high streets; and of course sustainbility continues to take up a lot of our time.

How do you see the BPF’s role evolving over the next 5 years? What are your aspirations for the federation?
Our main priority is to represent those who own property in the UK. So to the extent that the nature of that ownership is changing, with more overseas investors, we shall have to adapt our offering to appeal to those overseas owners who understand very little of our political landscape. Getting them to appreciate that one little and injudicious change in, say, landlord and tenant legislation could wipe millions off the value of their assets is the biggest challenge. Which is why it’s worth them paying somebody like the BPF to campaign against such policies.

What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is different – which is why the job is such fun. It quite often starts with a breakfast meeting or seminar (which is a struggle because I am not an early morning person), then I might have a BPF committee meeting – which happen quite frequently since committees are an essential way of getting the members involved and seeking their views on an issue. We’re in to see Government officials on a regular basis so I’m quite likely to have a meeting in, say, CLG in the afternoon and then people from all over the place come to see me about an idea they might have, a worry over policy – or simply for a catch-up on what’s going on. Finally at least twice a week, there’s a dinner or evening seminar and cocktail party. So quite a social whirl really!!

What are the main day-to-day challenges you face as Chief Executive?
The Government is good at listening – whether it actually hears what is being said is another matter. It is a real challenge getting over to them just what the property industry is about and how helpful it could be in supporting economic growth if it was freed from some of the regulatory or fiscal constraints under which it operates.

The other big struggle – though not necessarily one that I think we can win in the short term – is the propensity of the industry to fragment its representation and to have just too many different voices vying to talk to Government on similar issues. We’ve shown recently how effective it is when two bodies join forces to lobby – us and the BCC on planning matters and in the past it was alliance of the BPF, IPF and RICS that got us REITs. But we need more of that – and it needs to take less effort to achieve.

…and the most rewarding aspect?
Getting a potentially damaging piece of legislation changed – or winning a major policy shift by Government.

What is your most memorable moment?
Definitely winning REITs for the industry and then being invited to start the trading at the Stock Exchange on the day they became ‘operational’.

Can you tell us something about your involvement with LandAid?
I’ve been a trustee since LandAid was ‘re-invented’ by Mike Slade some five or six years ago. The BPF provides a home for the LandAid secretariat and we help as much as we can with fundraising – which is what led me to abseil down what seemed like a very tall building for LandAid day last year. I have also sung in all but one PNTPs which have latterly raised funds for LandAid. I’d like to do more – as the riots in our Cities have shown disillusioned and dispossessed youth poses a serious threat to our society – these people do really need our help.

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