Interview: Nahid Majid OBE from UKTI

Tue 19th November 2013, 3:01 pm

Nahid Majid OBE, chief operating officer for the recently announced Regeneration Investment Organisation (RIO), at UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) reveals more details about how the body aims to attract foreign investors into the UK.

Can you provide a bit of background to the RIO and how it came about?

UKTI has great relations with sovereign wealth funds and overseas investors. However the pipeline of credible UK regeneration opportunities that can be delivered in five to 10 years is limited.  

My role was to develop a regeneration strategy for UKTI and to ensure credibility in putting forward projects and accountability and transparency in selecting UK projects to pitch to overseas investors.  

Central to this was to ensure that regeneration focused on large scale jobs and growth and so goes beyond purely real estate and 'trophy' projects. 

I developed the strategy through discussions across the development industry and government, set industry backed criteria, which was based on investor asks and discussions with investors and UKTI colleagues. 

Key individuals backed the idea and agreed to become members of a prominent and expert advisory board which will ensure transparency, ensure credibility of projects, deal with regional imbalance through promotion and backing of projects, and also ensure that government acts as the honest broker in putting forward quality projects.

A paper was submitted to our minister Lord Green, and the Treasury agreed to fund the concept so that I could build a team with the appointment of an expert chair Sir Michael Bear. 

Number 10 colleagues were supportive of the concept of RIO which led to the prime minister's announcement at the Lord Mayor of London's banquet on 11 November.

I received enormous support from Michael Boyd MD (formerly partner at Ernst & Young) at UKTI and Damian Nussbaum, director at UKTI, who leads on this area of work and investors.

What do you expect RIO’s outcomes or results are for the first year?

We have a pipeline of 163 projects with a total value of £100 billion, of which 53 projects are in London worth £53 billion. 

Projects in London have included Wembley, New Covent Garden Market and the Olympic Park. Outside London, projects include Titanic Quarter in Belfast, Clyde Gateway in Glasgow and Circuit of Wales.

Over half a million jobs are expected to be generated through these projects, clearly distributed over their respective timelines.

In terms of targets, RIO forms a part of the Institutional Investment Group at UKTI and, as such, targets for RIO form a percentage of investments secured by the group.

The target for 2013/2014 is 30 per cent of £1.5 billion (approximately £0.5 billion) and for 2014/2015 is 50 percent of £2 billion.

This is a conservative estimate as there is £100 billion in the pipeline – so a huge potential which can lead to an increase in targets as a percentage.

Are there any significant contacts with foreign investors?

Yes - extensive contacts, including visits and presentations to overseas investors on UK regeneration opportunities. For example we have close relationships with SP Setia and Employees Provident Fund from Malaysia, and ABP Holding Group from China.

Which countries/organisations are RIOs main sources of investment and how is that likely to evolve?

China, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and UAE. However we are still learning which investors are willing to invest in regeneration as opposed to real estate or infrastructure, and are currently undertaking a mapping exercise and an audit so we can target particular markets and open up in the future emerging markets.

For London projects, what is the relationship between RIO and London & Partners?

London deputy mayor Sir Edward Lister is on our advisory board and ensures that we have a London-wide focus. London & Partners and the GLA lead on London opportunities. At RIO, we assist with overseas investors and ensuring projects meet the necessary standard to make our UK pipeline.

Can you tell something about your role and responsibilities?

I am chief operating officer (COO) for the RIO. At UKTI I developed a regeneration strategy which resulted in ministerial and Treasury approval for a RIO and my promotion to COO in October 2013.

The RIO team within UKTI's strategic relations institutional investors team works with sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, developers and international governments and UK embassies.

My role as COO focuses around developing a pipeline of credible UK large scale regeneration investment opportunities to market to overseas investors on ministerial and key overseas visits.

This includes prioritising and promoting high quality opportunities, assessing the commercial viability and overseeing due diligence on projects and their suitability for promotion to overseas investors, analysing them against investor appetite and ministerial priorities.

It also involves communicating and negotiating in resolving barriers to UK project delivery with UK government, developers, and resolving investment barriers with international investors in the developed markets, Asia, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East working with our network of UK global embassies.

Can you tell a bit about your career and how you came into your current role?

I trained and qualified as a town planner (with a degree in urban planning) and an urban designer (masters in urban design) beginning my career in an inner London local authority on development control applications, then moved onto the City Challenge programme in Bethnal Green working on capital projects, Bishopsgate and Broadgate and wrote the urban design strategy for Spitalfields.

I was good at getting match funding so was seconded to lead on European structural funds for London negotiating the case for London with local authorities.

After my secondment I went to work as urban renaissance manager for the Prince of Wales Foundation for Architecture leading on good urban design working with the South East England Development Agency.

I then went onto work in the private sector as associate director of regeneration for cosntruction consultancy Turner & Townsend - leading on areas such including the Ashford growth area, Leigh Park in Havant, and the Stephen Lawrence Centre, where I learnt a lot about project management and technical process mapping and financial skills. 

During my time at Turner & Townsend, I was part of the 2012 Olympics legacy working group, helping to write the sustainable placemaking chapter in the winning London bid. 

I then went into government as a senior civil servant/deputy director of area initiatives leading on the 15 UK city strategy pathfinders and allocation of £70 million, which led to the city regions and total places agenda of aligning funds.

I had a short spell at the Mayors Fund for London as director of programmes, setting up programmes and then as director of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, establishing design services.

So I have a real mix of private and public sector expertise, running large scale capital projects, gaining extensive development and financial expertise and partnership skills.

My hands on technical development experience, and relationships with developers and government, led me to this role as COO for RIO.

Who are the other faces of RIO?

A fantastic chair, Sir Michael Bear, who was formerly Lord Mayor, an engineer by background and someone who has been heavily involved in the construction and development industry with Balfour Beatty, Hammersons and Arup.

Sir Michael was also my former chair when we were both at Bethnal Green city challenge and Cityside Regeneration where I was capital projects manager.

Paul Marsh, a very experienced development director involved in the construction and development sector, is head of UK projects and finance.

Peter Paddon, who supports us as head of planning, has extensive planning expertise.

Sara Beswick, executive assistant to myself and Sir Michael, has many years of extensive experience working with partners and businesses.

There are three regional project officers - Natasha Sheel who covers the central region and Wales, Michelle Leyden who covers the South and Northern Ireland and we are recruiting a regional officer for the North and Scotland.

We also have Steven Zhang, who has extensive financial expertise in relation to development propositions.

There is also an excellent board of advisors including developers, bankers, academics, cities, and government. We work under Michael Boyd who is managing director at UKTI and former Ernst & Young partner.

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