“Global capital has a choice. London must compete with other global cities. We cannot stand still…we have to continually up our game as this is a contest.” – Jace Tyrrell, Chief Executive of Opportunity London

30 Apr 2024

In the latest interview in the London Leaders series we speak with Chief Executive of Opportunity London, Jace Tyrrell on his mission to secure the next £100bn of capital investment for the capital.

Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State in the 1970s, is alleged to have remarked “Who do I call when I want to talk to Europe?”. It may or may not be true, but for those looking to invest in London, Kissinger’s challenge might sound all-too familiar – faced with a myriad of councils and public sector organisations, who should they speak with on how and where to invest?

Solving this challenge falls to Opportunity London, a new organisation which is a partnership between London Councils, the Mayor of London and the City of London Corporation with backing from a range of private sector companies.

And the job of leading Opportunity London falls to Jace Tyrrell. Well-known in London circles and in need of no introduction to many, Tyrrell’s CV includes a total of 16 years at New West End Company BID interspersed with 12 months running CPA/WPA just over a decade ago before returning to NWEC as CEO becoming a familiar voice on the big issues facing central London’s retail sector. He’s a bouncing dynamo, and those who’ve come across Jace will agree the Evening Standard’s 2016 description of him as an “energy whirlwind” is most befitting.

And, as you’d expect, he’s thrown his energies into his latest role, passionately making the case for why Opportunity London is needed. “It came out of a need to bring the built environment industry together with all levels of London government”, he says, “because there wasn’t one consistent business case and ask by the city of the investor community”. Key is the creation of a one-stop-shop to ease the path for investment across the city, with Opportunity London pulling together an agreed pipeline of potential development projects seeking financial backing.

It’s no mean feat what has been achieved in a city with different political parties running different branches of London’s government and a long track-record of sometimes spikey and adversarial politics. As Tyrrell notes, “we’ve been able to organise ourselves across the three levels of government and across Zones 1 to 6”.

Opportunity London has an over-arching mission to secure the next £100bn of capital investment for the capital. And in a period when the current – and almost certainly the next – government will not be flush with cash, investor capital becomes even more important if London’s big challenges around housing, regeneration and infrastructure are to be solved. Tyrrell himself emphasises this point: – “I think whatever your political colour, there’s a realisation that London needs more investment and there’s not enough public money to deliver the projects. If we can find institutional capital that means it isn’t coming from the public purse, and this is critical for the success of London”.

Jace makes a great pitch for why companies and organisations should get on board Opportunity London’s work, saying he wants to “hear from the development industry on how to unblock their wish list of projects and schemes” and that he’s “genuinely open to new ideas on how to unlock capital”. Tyrrell stresses the importance of partnership, and how he is particularly keen to re work with London Property Alliance’s membership. The Alliance is listed among Opportunity London’s partner organisation, and has supported Opportunity London on research and study trips. Tyrrell believes an area of interest to LPA members, alongside the list of investment priorities, is the fact that Opportunity London provides a mechanism for the investor community to tell policymakers and politicians what they need. “We can support those conversations”, says Tyrrell, “so that both sides can really understand each other’s dynamics and pressures”. While many investors are in it for the long run, the message he hears about the planning system – and the time it can take to realise schemes – is a concern for Tyrrell. “I think everyone’s alive to these issues – and the councils and the Mayor want to solve this”, he says.

Tyrrell is confident investors still see London as a top-drawer location for patient capital, and by being in it for the long-term, are “aligned with London’s values”. But he is acutely aware of the growing competition London faces, particularly from the Middle East. “Global capital has a choice”, adds Tyrrell, and London must “compete with other global cities. We cannot stand still…we have to continually up our game as this is a contest. If we fail, we let down London and Londoners, who miss out on billions of pounds of investment which could make their lives better”.

Tyrrell is generous in his praise of the partners working together to make Opportunity London a success. He describes London & Partners, the Mayor’s agency, as “exceptional”, heaping praise on the Chief Executive, Laura Citron, and NLA’s Nick McKeogh who are Opportunity London’s co-chairs. The two main leads on London Councils, Cllr Darren Rodwell (Labour Leader of the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham) and Elizabeth Campbell (Conservative Leader of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea) he dubs “remarkable”, reserving particular praise for how they’ve put party politics aside to work together so closely.

And negotiating the politics is a skilful job – Londoners vote in a Mayoral contest in a matter of days, and there’s likely to be a General Election later in the year, followed by local elections in 2026 – the adversarial contests at the ballot box never end.

What does success look like for Tyrrell? For him, while dubbing it a “big number”, it’s securing that £100bn of new investment. Seeing progress flowing from the investment is also important. “I’d love to stand here in five years’ time and point to two dozen schemes across the capital – and not just in Zone 1- that are unlocked and underway because of the work we’ve been doing.”

For Tyrrell himself, there’s something about London’s magnetism that keeps drawing him back. A self-described “Boomerang Brit”, he was born in the UK but moved to Australia aged two. He returned in his twenties after university, working in (and living above) a pub in Soho, including running the pub’s Quiz Night. “People say you go to Paris to be Parisian, you go to New York to be New Yorker, but actually you come to London to be yourself”, argues Tyrrell. This clearly matters to him personally – after his time running NWEC, Tyrrell returned down under for two years to run the New Sydney Waterfront Company (Australia’s first business improvement district) before returning once more to the capital to take on the role leading Opportunity London. He adds that “London is my sort of people, in my sort of city, and personally that has a draw. You have a choice in life where you want to live, make your home and where you want to work. London ticks all those boxes for me.”

Having worked in and around politics and politicians over many years, does he have any political ambitions of his own? “I would never say never to politics” he replies, quick as a flash, “but I’m firmly anchored in the work of Opportunity London and being on this side is very good thank you very much” – which sounds remarkably like a politician’s answer.

Finally, and to return to Kissinger’s dilemma from the beginning of the piece, when it comes to private investors befuddled by the complex governance of London, the answer is clear on who to call – it’s Opportunity London.

This interview was conducted by London Communications Agency on behalf of the London Property Alliance as part of its curation of the monthly Central London newsletter.

Read more from our London Leaders series here.