The MIPIM conference in Cannes is, in the words of its organisers, ‘the world’s leading property market’, bringing together ‘the most influential players from all property sectors’. Why, then, have so few heard of it? This blog aims to shed some light on this most opaque of events, where the fate of our cities is to a great extent decided without democratic accountability or oversight.

Founded in 1990, MIPIM soon developed a name for itself as the global property market grew, and began to attract ‘developers, PRs, investors, politicians and local authorities’.1 The near-total lack of transparency – many discussions are held at invitation-only lunches and on private yachts – has certainly not passed unnoticed. The attendance of public officials, often on the dime of the developers themselves, has also drawn the ire of housing campaigners and academics. In 2014, at least 20 UK local authorities were represented at the event, including the Greater London Authority, Bristol, Cardiff, and Leeds, as well as several individual London boroughs.

Councillors are right to say that cuts to local authority funding have left them in a squeeze – new social housing has to come from somewhere, and many desperately search for the required investment amongst the champagne and canape trays on the Riviera. But when MIPIM UK – a spin-off launched in 2014 – has featured workshops titled: ‘Investing in Affordable Housing – Is It Worth It?’ (subsequently changed) and ‘London – from social housing to super prime’, local authorities might ask themselves whether they are looking in the right place for the money and know-how to make genuinely affordable housing a reality.

MIPIM is, in many ways, not exactly the cause but certainly a symptom of a housing market gone badly wrong. The kind of system where structurally sound council estates get demolished and initial promises of no net loss of social housing are gradually whittled down until nearly no social homes remain in the new development, and many homes are sold instead to offshore investors with the promise of value appreciation and lucrative rental income should they decide to seek tenants for their newly-bought property.

Investment and development are not bad things. But the sort of investment and development on offer at MIPIM is not what local and national authorities should be seeking. Councils should instead be seeking to bring vacant stock back into use for those in urgent housing need, find creative ways of building more council housing, and lobby central government for a significant increase in the grants they are offered to provide for those who need a roof over their heads.