Every so often our industry does something right. Something utterly charming and delightful in every respect. It doesn't happen frequently but, just once in a while, I find myself overwhelmed by the sense of affection, of camaraderie, and of being in a family, that the property industry - at its very best - can espouse.
One such event was last Friday's tribute lunch, graciously masterminded by Stuart Lipton, and hosted by Chelsfield Partners, British Land, Land Securities, Heron, DP9 and Hammerson at the Goldsmiths Hall to celebrate Peter Wynne Rees's 25 years as the chief planning officer for the City of London. Blimey! Anyone who is anyone was there: All the big Bananas from the property world (Salway, Henderson, Grigg, Ronson, Womack, Barwick - you name any one of the gang and he was there) a huge smattering of our most famous architects and great 'n' good, and the more scrubbed-up planning consultants, of course, (including the whole of DP9, naturally).
I was extremely flattered to be included in such a gathering, I have to say (seated next to my NBF Bill Peach of C&W) and I would not have missed it for the world. It was one of these events whereby if you'd put a bomb under the Goldsmiths Hall that lunchtime, then you'd have seriously sliced an irrevocable hole through the entire industry.
And a deeply affectionate event altogether, suffused throughout with love and humour. It had been supposed to be a surprise for Peter but needless to say - as we in the property industry are pathologically incapable of holding our own water - he had a pretty fair idea of what was afoot, despite the fact that he desperately tried not to. I don't think it spoiled his delight, though. Actually, I don't think anything could have marred the day, it was so elegantly put together.
The speeches were simply superb; Stuart was more relaxed and stylish than I have ever seen him and made a gentle joke out of the policy of localism; he said that given there were 25 wards in the City and, given that he and his fellow property developers have a pretty good feel for the way that Peter thinks, that he was proposing - in a spirit of constructive support - that they should take over as ward chairmen. This got a roar of appreciation. He proposed the toast and presented Peter with our collective gift, a couple of huge, and hugely rare (and I think hugely valuable) antiquarian planning volumes.
Peter made a wonderful speech (his off-the cuff stuff is always excellent, even better than the things he plans, and there is always the added spice of him possibly straying into the risqué) on the theme of Celts in the City from the days of Boudicca and, true to brave and brilliant form, left us with a punch line on his preference for leather rather than frocks. Another roar of laughter and applause.
Garry Hart ("his lordship") delivered an extraordinary treatise as to why Peter has a penchant for tall buildings (too involved and intricate for me to attempt to report here but utterly, utterly, hilarious) including painting a tableau of Stuart Lipton (standing on Peter's planning books) and Godfrey Bradman (standing on a human pyramid comprised of his consultants) in Richmond Park, surveying the sight lines to St Pauls Cathedral. God, it was so funny I started hyperventilating!
And then the wondrous Paul Finch (no show without Punch) brought up the rear and we just had to have the story of when Peter held up the train from Lille to Cannes on the way to MIPIM that year and nearly got banged up by the French gendarmes - and became the hero of the British delegation for evermore, as a result. A further roar of approval followed Finchy (the Funmeister) of course.
It was a really lovely affair. And what came across, very very clearly, was the sense that in Peter Wynne Rees, we have a champion for the City of London, overseeing all the spectacular reforms over the last 25 years, from a sterile place populated by men in bowler hats with fires in the grates of their offices that closed at 7pm each night, to a proper vibrant heart fit for a modern financial district, with its concomitant retail (who could ever have predicted the uplift in retail floor space in the City? Now greater than that of Westfield London!!!!), restaurants and bars. And attention to detail in all the public spaces, a real sense of place, with public art and street furniture, as befits a world city. Not to mention the iconic (and tall!) buildings: the new world-class and world-recognised landmarks. It was generous for Peter to mark this as "a team effort" (his words) involving most of those in the room. But it has to be said that he was ever the Pied Piper.
Well, here's to another 25 years then.