Commercial Property Blog

All posts from: March 2011

An end of an era, but not an ethos

Posted by: PATRICIA BROWN, Thu, 31 Mar 2011

It is 25 years to the day since the Greater London Council was abolished. It coincides with the last day of CABE in its current form and the abolition or change to other bodies.

Yesterday's inbox pinged with goodbye messages and announcements of arts funding cuts. The LDA's demise has triggered the early departure of Peter Bishop, its Deputy Chief Executive and design and development chief, and there is a shadow over numerous roles at the core of London's development and design.

It feels like the end of an era.

Coming soon - very sad - Williamsburg

Not a happy community

As Ludo Campbell Reid, Auckland’s Urban Design Director, writes, 'CABE has been a major influencer and has laid down the foundation for lifting awareness, building skills, confidence and shaping the future of UK cities. It is now an international name and its function has been admired globally...'

While CABE has its critics, it gave us confidence to develop a better way of shaping places and spaces. It arrived in the wake of other organisations and other work, so it would not seek to claim an intellectual highground or originality. But its presence and consistency of message was important.

The GLC was reinvented in various ways, some voluntary and temporary and some, such as the Greater London Authority, statutory and 'permanent' (for what does that mean?). In the inter regnum time and effort went into trying to fill the vacuum of strategic thinking for London.  Some good things resulted through this effort but that alone was not sufficient to justify the gap. 

We’ve come a long way as a society in the past 25 years and learnt to value ourselves more – giving greater priority to people friendly places and quality architecture. The property sector has frequently been a leader not a follower in this. But creating successful places is an ongoing process, not a tick box.

Arguably CABE’s greatest influence was on schemes outside London, leading to many places that are richer for the process of engagement, expertise and critical thinking that it championed.

CABE was abolished by the proverbial cock up not conspiracy and it is fortunate that the team and board have found a way of continuing in a reduced form inside the Design Council.  But with so many other important services under threat we must find ways of retaining the ethos of urban and architectural quality, reaching out beyond the converted.

So, in the face of that, let’s keep calm and carry on, in the pursuit of quality design.

Brent Council's noisy neighbour problem

Posted by: Wed, 30 Mar 2011

Samantha Warrington is Property Week’s group production director

The England v Ghana friendly last night was the first time I have watched a match at Wembley – and what an entertaining and uplifting experience it was.



Samantha Warrington


A carnival atmosphere emanated from the Ghanaian corner and Black Stars fans passionately waved red, gold and green flags throughout the stadium.

Wembley is a magnificent national stadium and an outstanding venue for global sporting and entertainment events, of which the FA and the entire country can be rightly proud.

But what genius decided that it would be a good idea Brent Council to have its headquarters next door, and opposite Wembley Arena, another famous crowd puller.

As the 80,000-strong crowd that was backed up all the way down Empire Way waited patiently and good-naturedly to get on the Tube – buses are diverted on event days and parking restricted – I pondered how the citizens and officers of Brent would make their way to and from the Civic Centre.

It took us nearly an hour just to get out of the immediate stadium vicinity because of the sheer volume of people.

How will a single mother and her children urgently needing to sort out her housing benefit claim or a family returning their library books battle though the crowds outside the Civic Centre on, say, the day of a crucial England v Scotland World Cup qualifier at the stadium and the WWE Smackdown at the arena?

Brent Council is cutting and relocating local services from all over the borough to its £100m trophy Civic Centre, with its "state of the art facilities" and £3m mega-library.

But if the people of Brent cannot even get to it, it is in danger of becoming an isolated white elephant – built with council taxpayers’ money.        


Rigby’s Rugby Ratings: Championship Review

Posted by: Mark Rigby, Mon, 28 Mar 2011

Like any property professional, I’m looking for a return on investment.  OK, with England it’s emotional rather than financial but I’m certainly interested in whether Johnno reckons he’s getting a decent yield from his assets or whether he has plans to reshape his portfolio heading into the World Cup. 

Let’s not make the mistake of judging England’s tournament or their progress by one result in Dublin.  They didn’t show up in Ireland and weren’t allowed to claw back their errors, a slow start, and their poor estimation of the opponent.  But I’m interested in the Championship as a whole and where this leaves the sides in the lead up to the big one in New Zealand.

Would we have taken the title at the start?  Absolutely we would.  Johnno has met his objectives (as set by new England CEO John Steele who is also a surveyor by background) and there is no doubt this side is moving in the right direction.  Did England merit a Slam?  No, not in my view.  You cannot be so evidently second best – as we were against Ireland – and expect any favours.  The table never lies!

Something that does concern me – from my own back row playing perspective! – is where the weakness sits in this England side.  It’s in the loose and in the contact.  Look at where we’ve been done over in the last three problem games and you’ll see the trend.  South Africa, Scotland and, most recently, Ireland bested us because they nailed us in contact.  They delivered the physicality and commitment to secure their own ball and to disrupt ours.  In contrast, England often got the numbers wrong, putting too many or too few people into contact and, consequently, struggled to make space out wide or get the ball moving fast enough.

In modern rugby, this department is critical.  Look at the Tournament as a whole and you’d have to say that all of the stand out players have been back row masters.  From O’Brien and Harinordoquy to Parisse and Warburton, these have been the MVPs, snaffling, spoiling and securing ball and it’s those interventions that turn matches.  England’s back row has been OK but not great.  Heading to the World Cup, there is a lot of work to do to get it firing and to ensure that all of the English forwards are bang on song.  Opposition teams will have done their homework.  If we don’t improve in this department, it will be our undoing down under.

Looking at more positive aspects, you have to admire the way that a young side with relatively few caps has handled itself.  I’ve been impressed with Youngs and Flood, with our back three and with Hartley at No 2.  There have been moments of maturity and signs of the ability to make the big game decisions – for a young team, this is encouraging.  When we won in 2003, every rugby fan became more than familiar with T-CUP (Thinking Clearly Under Pressure).  That’s what we need heading to New Zealand and, with this side, I think we can achieve it.  ‘Body on fire, head in the fridge’ as my old pal Lawrence Dallaglio says.

Can we win it again?  No doubt, but it will take one hell of an effort.  This side has come a long way since 2010’s Six Nations tournament but must step on the gas to make the changes needed to be World Cup winners.  If Johnno can wring out that rate of improvement over the next few months, great stuff.  My assessment is that England could do it but, right now, you’d be a brave man to bet on it.

Looking across the rest of the tournament, there have been some cracking games and certainly some shocks.  Who would have expected the French to fall in Rome?  That result reaffirms the rise of Italy by whom I’ve been impressed.  Under Nick Mallet, they continue to emerge as a force and I take my hat off to them.  Let’s not forget that, aside from a duff performance against England, they nearly did for Wales and certainly didn’t give Ireland an easy ride.  Good tournament for the Azurri.

The French always entertain me.  Are they an asset I’d like under my management?  Yes, but for the fun of it not a safe and certain investment.  They played some of the best rugby in the tournament but also displayed the maddest management from Lievremont.  Very interesting that the crowd showed such solidarity with the players at Stade de France in the final game.  I wouldn’t have expected that from their notoriously fickle support.  Key question – are they moving forwards?  Maybe, but the jury is out.

No need for a jury for Andy Robinson.  It’s clear his side is going backwards and another foot of the table berth is not what the Autumn heralded.  There are problems north of the border and it’s going to take more than inspiration and perspiration from committed players to compensate.  It could well be a long trip to Dunedin for the Scots and a very long trip home again!

Ireland will take a lot of confidence from the England result leaving players looking forwards but fans looking confused.  How many ‘if onlys’ will have been muttered across the Isle?  Ireland played a bit part Six Nations.  Can they step up for the World Cup?  No, not in my view.  Again, I’d be far from surprised to see them put in a stonking game but I genuinely would fall off my chair if they put back to back performances together to get to the Final.

‘Stuttering’ is my word for the Welsh.  Glimpses of quality but moments of weakness too, not least in the fragility of their squad which has too little depth to be any real danger down under. 

When the players get onto the planes heading to New Zealand, I’ll be full of optimism but anxious too.  I don’t expect to see a Northern Hemisphere winner to be honest.  But, if Johnno can show us property boys that he knows a thing or two about asset management, who knows?  He’ll just need to get his little portfolio fine tuned in double quick time and that, I fear, is a task beyond even his impressive powers.

I’m 12 from 15 for this Six Nations so not bad.  Mr G takes the Property Week bubbly for his punditry. 

To the World Cup we turn….

Mark Rigby is Chief Executive of CVS and Chairman of London Wasps.

Ointment, Cannes and how I nearly dropped out of the London marathon

Posted by: Mon, 28 Mar 2011

It was in my hotel in Cannes three weeks ago, as I was contorting myself into a position that Houdini would have been proud of whilst applying ointment to a medical condition that had rendered walking an agonising experience,  that I thought I might not be able to take part in this year’s London Marathon.

I met this moment with some relief – a move of house had also played havoc with my training regime, and I have been feeling distinctly unfit of late (the boozing and endless canapés at MIPIM probably didn’t help).

However, a small part of me with a sense of morality felt I would be letting my chosen charity, Shelter, down.

I then discovered healthy living and, an orchard-load of apples later, I am feeling medically fit-as-a-butcher's dog, alas with calf-muscles more akin to chipolatas.

That is why I am now trying a very fast-track process of getting in shape for what is likely to be 26.2 miles of burning, crippling pain.

I ran 16 miles yesterday. My knees feel like I’ve got coarse sandpaper stapled to the inside of my kneecap.

The other big problem is fundraising. With around three weeks left, and the majority of my funds thus far having been donated by my mum, I know have to raise cash fast.

This is why I can now announce that a pub quiz extravaganza will be taking place on April 12 to raise a final bit of cash before the big day. It will be held at the Stamford Arms, Stamford Street near the South Bank.

There will a gruelling quiz with prize, a raffle (details to follow), food and possibly the chance to see me embarrass myself.

Tickets will be £5 each or £25 for a team of six. If you have any questions, fancy contributing a raffle prize, want to buy tickets or just want to say hello then contact me on david.doyle@ubm.com.

Anyone who just feels in the mood for parting with their cash can go to www.justgiving.com/david-doyle to donate. Believe me, I’ve already suffered enough…

Confidence flourishes in the second semester

Posted by: Ed Westlake, Mon, 28 Mar 2011

The second semester at London South Bank University Bank is now fully underway and we are being immersed into the world of real estate. 

Having received a firm grounding in the industry during the first semester, confidence among students is certainly flourishing.

Modules such as land economics, valuations and law for property professionals have introduced us to key aspects of the industry and provided us with knowledge to take into job interviews.

Having completed these modules we are now studying other elements of property such as property investment appraisal, development appraisal and corporate real estate management as well as making the initial preparation for our dissertation topics.

The great thing about studying real estate at London South Bank University Bank is the hands-on experience.

The course is designed to give students a rounded understanding of the work of a chartered surveyor.

As well as our written pieces of coursework and examinations we are regularly expected to prepare presentations which prepare us for the interactive and persuasive element of the business.

Having done a non-cognate undergraduate degree I feel that my technical understanding of the property world is developing quickly and I am increasingly excited about pursuing it as a career.

Why landlords should be friends with Facebook

Posted by: Claer Barrett, Mon, 28 Mar 2011

If you’re one of Facebook’s 500 million users, chances are you’ve noticed ever-growing numbers of businesses who want you to “like” them. At first, only pop stars and film stars had fan pages on Facebook, but now all the major retail brands want to be your friend. From John Lewis (over 30,400 fans) to cult teen brand Hollister (which has 4.6 million), people in property might disregard this as a passing fad. But here’s why they’d be wrong to do so.

Having shied away from social networking for years, fearing it could lead to damaging publicity, retailers are now embracing it. Most I’ve spoken to, like the Co-op and John Lewis, say they’ve done it because it’s how customers want to communicate with them. Many of us don’t pick up the phone or send an e-mail to get in touch with friends anymore, we simply “Facebook them”. Some brands are finding that they get more hits on their Facebook page than they do on their actual websites.

So what do their Facebook pages actually say? Retailers commonly post messages about store opening times, and new products (John Lewis has one saying “The iPad 2 is now out of stock after 10 minutes”). They can also ask for feedback. Upmarket chocolatier Hotel Chocolat opened its Belfast store after suggestions from customers on Facebook, and has also asked users whether its popular salted caramels are too salty.

The launch of Facebook locations this year means that you can log in via your smartphone, and ask for retailers who have special offers on near you (GPS means Facebook can tell your exact location). Debenhams gave away 1,000 free mascaras last month to the first 1,000 shoppers who “checked in” via their smartphones at its Oxford Street store. Neatly, this alerts all your friends via your Facebook status, providing free advertising for the retailer, and driving much-needed footfall to stores.

Unsurprisingly, landlords of shopping centres are now muscling in on the Facebook craze. Westfield London has a very slick page, and the St David’s Centre in Cardiff uses Facebook to promote student nights, and publicise new store openings and giveaways (last week, they were giving away Crispy Creme to mark a new store opening).

Using the internet to drive footfall and physical retail sales is a bold call, but as the technology grows, there are other potential benefits for landlords. With the lure of a free doughnut or lipstick, you can encourage shoppers to “check in” and potentially collect demographic information via their Facebook profile. This provides a valuable snapshot of who’s using your centre and why. There’s a good chance that having this kind of data could potentially boost the investment value of shopping centres in future times – now that’s something landlords will be fans of.

Claer Barrett is the retail correspondent of the Financial Times, and the former associate editor of the Investors Chronicle and Property Week

Reckless and dangerous: Bywater Properties founder takes on Everest

Posted by: Richard Walker, Thu, 24 Mar 2011

So I’ve got three days to go until I depart on the biggest and most reckless mission of my life.

I bumped into Julian Stocks today (my former boss at JLL and now MD at Tishman Speyer)…

“How’s business?” he asked.

“Good” I said; “Except I’m climbing Everest for two months, so I’m slightly distracted”.

He looked worried.

I’ve been met with similar incredulity over the past few months, as people try to work out how a complete amateur thinks he can try to scale the biggest mountain on earth.  But that’s the whole point in life isn’t it? Dreaming the impossible!

Twelve months ago I had a surreal conversation with my Dad. The ash cloud had enveloped Europe. I was stuck in Warsaw with work and he (hilariously, for a man with the attention span of a goldfish) was stuck on a remote island in the Arctic Circle called Spitzbergen.  Dad had just flown to the North Pole with a famous explorer called David Hempleman-Adams…

“I’m climbing Mount Everest next year” said Dad.

“Why?” I asked.

“Ego” he responded.

“Oh. Well if you’re going I’m going too!”  I stupidly exclaimed. In one minute of drunken banter I had unwittingly changed the course of my life.

I quickly learned that Everest is not something to be undertaken lightly. Recent years have seen grandmas and children scale the 29,029ft peak, and so I had naturally presumed there was now a motorway route to the top of the world. Not so.  The horrifying statistic is that for every 10 climbers who attempt the summit, approximately one will die. The route to the top is littered with the bodies of climbers.

The summit lies at the cruising altitude of a jumbo jet, in the infamous ‘death zone’ – where altitudes of over 8,000m see the human body literally start to consume itself. Your muscles start to rot; your bones lose density; and brain cells disappear (not that this should be too troubling for a Chartered Surveyor).

Given that my expedition experience is limited to a Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and Raleigh, the last 12 months has been a crash course in all things mountaineering.  We’ve had trips to all the main mountain ranges in Britain, the Alps, and Kilimanjaro. It’s been a hectic time, as both my Dad and I have struggled to fit in these trips around our businesses and family.

The last few weeks have been a mad flurry of working, training and eating (you need to put on a lot of weight before you go, given that on average people lose about 1.5 stone on the expedition).  Packing for a trip like this is pretty epic too, and the wife is delighted that my five North Face duffel bags have finally left our living room to be shipped to Kathmandu.

I feel ready to take on this challenge, although it would be rather embarrassing if I couldn’t drag myself further than base camp due to altitude sickness.  Given our amateur status, my Dad and I have set the responsible goal of aiming for the North Col at just over 23,000ft, while the more experienced members of the team head for the summit. Let’s see how we do.

Behind all my bravado is of course more sombre thoughts. Leaving my business for two months will be difficult, and leaving my young family will be much worse.

I’d encourage you all to take a look at the expedition website: www.icelandeverest.org.uk where you can find out lots more info on the trip.

Our ambitious expedition is suitably matched by our target of raising £1 million for research into early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Alzheimer’s is a rather unfashionable cause, and research into it is massively underfunded despite the fact we face a massive epidemic of dementia in this country. So please pay us a visit at http://www.justgiving.com/icelandeverest and think about making a donation - no matter how small (or large!).

Global disasters need global teamwork

Posted by: PATRICIA BROWN, Wed, 23 Mar 2011

Global disasters were already at the forefront of my mind last night as I made my way to the Geffrye Museum for the opening of its timely exhibition – ‘At home in Japan: beyond the minimal house’.


Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt stepped in for the Japanese Ambassador, His Excellency, Mr Keiichi Hayashi, whose attention was rightly focused on supporting his country’s multiple catastrophes. The minister’s words of sympathy and tribute were especially heartfelt as he lived in Japan for two years and is a fluent Japanese speaker.


The exhibition’s focus is particularly poignant in the face of the destruction of so many lives and homes. I’m a Trustee of the museum, so have watched plans for the exhibition progress for well over a year, but who could have predicted this sad coincidence of timing.


View from a living room onto a domestic garden in Nara, Japan. Photo: Susan Andrews

View from a living room onto a domestic garden in Nara, Japan. Photo: Susan Andrews

On the way home I picked up an email request from the theatre company responsible for producing the West End hit, ENRON. It is searching for space for its next production about the legacy of 9/11, reminding me that it is nearly ten years since the attack on the twin towers.


Like Christchurch, Japan now faces a long and slow re-building programme after their natural disasters, and New York’s Lower Manhattan is still to fully rebuild and recover from its man-made destruction.


I spent time in New York after 9/11, and helped a tiny bit with its business recovery programme, hearing many sad stories of struggling small businesses in the adjacent areas. Many went to the wall for want of customers, as well as working phone and credit card links which remained out for many months.


Japan’s disaster has had an instant global business impact, with the ‘just in time’ supply chain hampering manufacturing, and finances and personnel being repatriated to help the rebuilding effort.  


Whether through terrorism or active fault lines, or our own growing susceptibility to major floods, disasters seem increasingly regular. For sure the property industry is one of the most impacted, and has to be at the core of the response.


New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate is developing a centre for post-catastrophe redevelopment, harnessing the expertise and resources of both the university and its students to respond to disaster situations: four projects are already underway in Haiti to rebuild homes, communities and livelihoods in this stricken country.


As well as such practical support, Schack’s developing programme is intent on learning from best practice in resilience and recovery.


The UK has been tested through terrorism and shown itself to be resurgent. But the threats remain, whether through man’s own hand or, as Bill Gloyn regularly points out, failure to invest in flood defences.


Sadly, Schack’s Jim Stuckey has spotted a growth industry, one where collaboration rather than competition is the only sensible option.  



George's balancing act of growing a troubled economy

Posted by: Claire Higgins, Wed, 23 Mar 2011

The theory behind today’s Budget was a trade off between the Chancellor’s promised “Budget for growth” and the troubling backdrop of rising inflation, weakening tax revenues and flat economic output. 

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has revised its November forecast for economic growth from 2.1% for this year to 1.7%, closer in line with independent forecasts, but its medium term forecasts have increased. 

This confident outlook, combined with the OBR forecasts on debt indicating the Government will hit its fiscal mandate by 2015, is what has given the Chancellor breathing room to argue that £1bn raised from a clampdown on tax avoidance and the previously announced £800m additional tax on banks enables him to fund populist measures such as the cut in fuel duty and the £250m move to help first-time buyers, alongside business-friendly moves such as increasing the cuts in corporation tax. 

Aside from the economic story, key issues for property today included planning.  The theory of encouraging growth through a relaxation the planning regime has so far only stalled things, as local government continues to wait for clear guidance to materialise before committing itself.

Imposing time limits on planning applications, and reforms regarding land use and use class changes will do little to encourage development if local councils remain reluctant to take decisions.  Meanwhile, the lowering of the threshold at which empty rates kick in was discouraging, if expected, news.  

The Chancellor did a good job of selling the Budget as a business friendly plan for growth but most of the stated aims or reforms, such as the increase in the number of new Enterprise Zones from 10 to 21, will not materialise for several years. 

So, in the main, it will continue to be the economic story which will have the most direct influence on property’s near term performance.  Let’s not forget that the previously announced, and therefore not reiterated, spending cuts have yet to bite.  

The coming year is going to remain extremely challenging but is a necessary evil if the UK is to rebalance its books.  Rising inflation in the face of global difficulties, and the Monetary Policy Committee’s response to it, is likely to prove to be the biggest story this year regardless of today’s Budget.


Economy question brought on King's Speech stutter

Posted by: Henry Cartwright, Mon, 21 Mar 2011

In one recent interview when I was asked where the UK economy might be in 15 years’ time, my response was a stutter akin to Colin Firth’s performance in the film, The King’s Speech. 

Imagine being asked the same question in 1996: ‘Well, we’ll probably be recovering from the biggest crash since 1929 and Dave and Nick will be performing a dangerous double act variously talking about cuts and some sort of “Big Society”’. 

It was a good question and made me think about students’ experience of studying property at different times of the economic cycle. How can boom, bust and changing attitudes to risk be translated by academics into strong theoretical teaching that is also relevant to events of the day? 

At London South Bank University Bank we like to look long term and see how events of the last three years sit in the context of the last 30 years. This has been invaluable in revealing what we may be letting ourselves in for over the course of a career. Apart from the difficulties of taking a long term view when you are relatively young, however, it is the short term twists and turns of the recovery that decide our fate, at least when it comes to finding jobs. I found myself oddly pleased to receive the Q4 market beat reports showing things were heading in the right direction. 

I also wonder how the sobering influence of recent times has affected the style of teaching, in outlook as well as content. Will the classes of 2009, 2010 and 2011 become a different generation of property consultants, more cautious perhaps? Or is there nothing like having lived through tough times in the working world for a new style of professional advice to emerge? 

Either way, what we students have now is an opportunity to learn from others’ experiences, to observe changing times and hopefully to enter the market place armed with knowledge of our asset beyond our years.  

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