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RICS conference addresses issues of diversity

Posted by: sebastian okelly, Mon, 29 Jun 2015

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About 250 property professionals – most of them women – attended a RICS conference on “diversity and inclusion” in central London last week.

The occasion was to introduce the RICS Inclusive Employer Quality Mark, and was attended by a range of speakers in the property sector pushing forward agendas of racial, gender and class inclusiveness.

There were also contributions from guests such as Nicky Moffat, CBE, a former brigadier and the most senior woman in the British Army, Dame Fiona Woolf, CBE, a former Lord Mayor of London and an energy and infrastructure lawyer, and Sonia Watson, a former banker who now heads the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which has a particular concern to encourage “hard to reach” youth to consider careers in architecture.

It was widely acknowledged by most speakers – and by the conference – that professions in the property sector had long been “pale and male” and socially restrictive.

When those in the audience were asked whether they had encountered homophobic behaviour at work around a quarter to a third put up their hands.

Yet the professions are fast changing according to RICS president Dr Louise Brooke-Smith, the outgoing RICS president and director of Birmingham-based Brooke Smith Planning.

She made the hard-headed business case for diversity.

“Success to me has been the events I have attended where gender, class or ethnicity have been irrelevant and we have simply got on with the job in hand,” she told the conference.

“’Inclusive’ is actually defined as ‘being comprehensive’ and is commonly used to mirror the clients and the communities we serve – our demographic, our age, ethnicity and gender – should all reflect our clients and give them confidence in our ability. That is a high aspiration.

“To achieve it we need to change the way we work, change some attitudes and address perceptions; change the way we recruit so we can fish in a much wider pool to find the brightest and the best from our respective communities. Then we need to change the way we develop and promote our staff.”

To that end, RICS has introduced its Inclusive Employer Quality Mark, which encourages wide ranging recruitment, engaging with staff of different cultures and retaining them.

The business case for chartered surveyors dumping the tweedy image of the past is made by its world-wide membership of more than 100,000 and the huge surge in the global, urban middle class.

RICS has produced a brilliant short video addressing this brave new world:

Different parts of the world had differing concerns, Dr Brooke-Smith pointed out.

“In India, for example, religion is as big an issue as gender.  In parts of the  Middle East and the Far East, the issue isn’t access to education but the position of women in society … There are some enlightened parts of the world including parts of the Caribbean and Sub Saharan Africa that puts many long established markets and economies to shame…

“In the UK, we are clearly an established and traditional profession but that might actually be part of the problem – a history of landed gentry, a male preserve in terms of land title, property matters being dealt with by certain classes - you get the picture.”

In 2013, the number of women qualified women surveyors in the UK had inched up from to 13% and today is nudging 16%.

On the other hand, female qualified surveyors in North Asia stands at 25.9%, so one in four surveyors is a women.

Another practical point in making the case for diversity was made by Colin Wilson, head of UK and Ireland DTZ. He pointed out that the UK only produces 1,200 quantity surveyors a year and 600 of them go overseas.

Of the remainder, 200 are already signed up to employers, leaving just 400 available to employers.

“We have not attended this conference under the ‘human resources’ banner, still less under the ‘marketing’ banner. We are here to make a difference and it is good that as an industry we are talking about these issues.”

These were sentiments fully endorsed by Ciaran Bird, UK managing director of CBRE.

Mr Bird said that he “fell into the industry at 16, and it was the best industry you could ever work for”. But that had to change. He talked of CBRE’s apprentice scheme, pro bono work and the women’s network group.

“It is so easy to beat up this industry around diversity as it has been woeful. But we are changing.”

Referendum is the elephant in the room

Posted by: Rhiannon Bury, Fri, 8 May 2015

This morning’s shock victory for the Conservatives will be welcomed by the property industry – our polling of readers in February showed that 61% of those who responded intended to vote for the Conservatives yesterday. No surprises there.

But while support for David Cameron retaining his place in Number 10 has been high, there is one elephant in the room which has got a number of people worried this morning – and that’s the promised referendum on Britain’s place within the European Union.

Despite its right-leaning tendencies, the property industry has been almost universal in its condemnation of an EU exit, saying that it will hit business at a time when the UK needs to appear stable to foreign companies.

Indeed, before 10am this morning, Savills, CBRE and JLL had sent out statements warning that an EU exit could spell disaster for confidence in an industry still tentatively recovering – amid rhetoric that suggested that the market is on the up.

Guy Grainger, UK chief executive of JLL, said British businesses “remain committed to a strong position within the European Union”. He called for engagement in the debate to avoid a referendum altogether.

Mat Oakley from Savills went one step further and said if the UK were to leave the EU, it would have “a damaging effect on London’s attractiveness to US and Asian businesses”.

Meanwhile, Miles Gibson, head of UK research at CBRE, said most of the firm’s clients were concerned about the prospect of leaving the EU because it would hit investment.

The new Conservative government is going to have to play this very carefully. If it goes ahead with an in/out referendum - and it would be extraordinary if it didn’t given David Cameron’s pledges in the campaign – then it appears it will not have the support of many big businesses.

Certainly, at the very least, business will expect a strong ‘In’ campaign from the government, which may be difficult for Cameron to deliver given his slim majority and inevitable reliance on the eurosceptic wing of his party to secure votes in the house.

It’s going to be a balancing act between keeping its promises on the UK’s position within the EU, and not derailing the fragile economic recovery that has formed a huge part of its election campaigning, and on which the property industry so heavily relies.

Property portfolio could come to Morrisons' rescue

Posted by: Simon Creasey, Thu, 12 Mar 2015

Morrisons

Earlier this year Property Week posed the question: could the ‘big four’ grocers soon become the ‘big three’?

Retail analysts might have dismissed this scenario out of hand a couple of years ago, but off the back of a disappointing Christmas trading period it started to seem increasingly likely.

The latest grocery share figures released by Kantar Worldpanel earlier this week only served to reinforce this viewpoint. The German discounters Aldi and Lidl continued to grow sales and increase their market share in the 12 weeks ending 1 March 2015, with Tesco the only member of the big four to register growth in the period.

Asda’s sales were down by 2.1%, Sainsbury’s sales fell by 0.5% and Morrisons endured another body blow with sales dropping by 0.4%. Morrisons’ perilous plight was further underlined in its preliminary results published today. Pre-tax profits fell by 52% to £345m – its worst performance in eight years – thanks largely to the fact that the grocer has been “put to the sword” by the rise of Aldi and Lidl, according to Phil Dorrell, director of retail consultants Retail Remedy.

“The brand has haemorrhaged both sales and share to the brash young discounters who took its cheap prices USP, improved it, and then unceremoniously yanked the rug from underneath it. Next to the perky German upstarts it has increasingly looked neither cheap nor cheerful,” says Dorrell.

Although it may not seem like it, the one bright point in Morrisons latest set of results, which stands it in good stead for the future, is its property portfolio, or what Dorrell refers to as its “get out of jail card”. The scale of the £1.3bn write down in the value of its portfolio may be alarming, but it was expected – it’s anticipated that Tesco and Sainsbury’s will announce further write downs in the future – as was the news that it will slow down the rollout of its convenience format M local stores, with 23 poor trading stores scheduled to close this year.

Somewhat sensibly, the grocer, which reported a £131m profit from dumping property assets, also said it will be much more specific when it comes to the acquisition of sites for future store openings.

It’s likely that the active asset management of the Morrisons’ property portfolio will continue under incoming CEO David Potts, with the likelihood of more sale and leaseback deals getting out of the blocks in the coming months – despite Morrisons’ financial woes there is still strong investor appetite for the company’s stores, according to property investment experts, with many funds already full of Tesco and Sainsbury’s.  

And the fact that Morrisons still retains the lion’s share of its property portfolio on a freehold basis further strengthens its hand, as does the welcome news that there could be some respite for Morrisons and the rest of the big four just around the corner.

As Tim Vallance, head of UK retail at JLL, points out: “While Aldi has posted a new record grocery market share [in the latest Kantar figures], the interesting point is that this is the retailer’s slowest rate of growth in several years. This highlights that the pace of growth of the discount retailers is slowing, suggesting that we are on the road to a position of stalemate between them and the big four.”

If an end to the unremitting onslaught the big four supermarkets have endured from the discounters over the last few years is finally in sight, there is an increasing chance that they will stay the big four after all. 

It's time to vote!

Posted by: A JRH, Mon, 23 Feb 2015

property awards

Property Week’s annual Property Awards is always a highlight in the diary.  But this year there is special reason to celebrate: it’s the 20th anniversary of the awards.

To recognise the occasion, this year we have launched a special award for the most innovative development of the past 20 years, sponsored by James Andrew International and its associated companies.

The Property Week editorial team have selected 20 schemes we believe have been truly groundbreaking and we want you – our readers – to vote for which one you think should win.

Your votes will help whittle the 20 schemes down to five and that shortlist will then be put to a live vote at the Property Awards on 21 April to decide the winner.

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Inevitably, there will be some schemes you think we have missed.  That is the nature of such a process. But if you really think a scheme should be on the list, then you can tell us what it is and why you think it should be included and Property Week and our panel of experts will consider it.

You can see a full run down of the schemes here and you can vote online here.

So please get involved and have your say on the most innovative development of the last 20 years.

Voting is simple and doing so puts you in with the chance of winning a magnum of Champagne, courtesy of the sponsor.

You can see a full run down of the schemes here and you can vote online here.

Why online operators need bricks and not just clicks

Posted by: Simon Creasey, Mon, 16 Feb 2015

A number of pure play online retailers have dabbled with bricks and mortar stores over the past few years, usually in the form of a pop-up shop.

Etsy, Asos, Net-a-Porter and online lifestyle retailer Surfdome have all used this temporary model to launch stores in central London. Ebay has even gone so far as to strike a deal with Argos allowing customers to collect items from specially branded counters at the high street catalogue retailers’ network of UK stores, and then there’s the example of rapidly growing online coffee pod retailer Nespresso, which has opened a number of ‘boutiques’ to ‘showcase’ rather than directly sell its wares. 

But are we on the cusp of an even greater sea change in the bricks and mortar strategy of online operators?  Earlier this month rumours started circulating that Amazon was weighing up the acquisition of a number of stores from bankrupt US electronics chain RadioShack.

It’s been heavily speculated that the retailer wants to use the stores to showcase products like its ebook reader Kindle, in addition to offering pick up and drop off facilities for online customers.

If it sees the deal through it would not only signal Amazon’s biggest push into bricks and mortar, but the biggest move towards establishing a physical presence on the high street of any online only operator.

Some retail experts also believe that it could be the start of a wider trend. They argue that for online only retailers to continue to grow at their current rate of knots and compete with their high street rivals, they need to establish a physical presence.

In the same way that traditional bricks and mortar retailers are currently trying to create a seamless interaction between their online proposition and their stores, the pressure is growing on these internet-only businesses to become omni-channel operators.

That’s because at the moment they’re missing out on a potentially lucrative revenue stream. Take the example of Next. One retail contact says that around 59% of online purchases made on the fashion retailer’s website go back through the company’s stores, which has a “halo impact” for the retailer as they’ve got an online customer in their store with a perceived credit note.

The upside of having a physical presence on the high street is further underlined by the additional spend that can be generated by click-and-collect shoppers. An e-retail survey published late last year by Verdict found that four out of ten homeware shoppers spent extra money in store when arriving to pick up their click and collect purchases.

Although building a network of bricks and mortar stores clearly carries an additional cost burden for pure play online operators like Amazon, evidence suggests that the potential rewards of going down this route could significantly outweigh the initial expense. 

Box Park is heading to Croydon, but is it enough?

Posted by: Felicity Francis, Wed, 11 Feb 2015

The news this week that pop-up hub Box Park is coming to Croydon is great news for people who work there. But those heralding the move as a sign that Croydon has finally hit the big time are wide of the mark. Here’s why:

First, food and drink. If residential price rises are to be believed a more affluent demographic is moving in, attracted by the long roads of well-appointed Victorian terraces unscathed by buy-to-let conversions. But the retail and leisure offering in central Croydon doesn’t match up. Where are the chains that are doing so well in London, such as Leon, Wasabi, or any of the countless burger joints? The fact they’re not there, and don’t seem to be going, isn’t exactly the vote of confidence that is needed to attract more office occupiers to the area.

Second, it’s going to take a lot more than Box Park to make the area look pretty. Office-to-residential conversions mean ugly offices that could be been pulled down are instead becoming flats. The new developments will be attractive, but are they enough?

Third, the town is well-connected but the London Bridge works are causing havoc to the timetable and East Croydon station itself is still mid-upgrade. This will all improve in time, but isn’t currently the best advert for the area.

There are movements, particularly from the council, to attract more trendy occupiers such as tech start-ups that would in turn attract more of the infrastructure a buzzing town centre needs. But creative communities grow from an existing base; they can’t be implanted.

As much as the imminent arrival of Box Park does signal that Croydon has trendy ambitions, it will take a lot more commitment from a lot more property people for it to happen. Westfield is still a long way off. 

The Margate renaissance

Posted by: Simon Creasey, Mon, 9 Feb 2015

Margate

Source: Charlotte Gilhooly

Traditional Margate

Is Margate the new Brighton? (Private Eye ‘Neophiliacs’ column here I come!)

That was the slightly tongue in cheek suggestion put forth by Land Securities’ head of retail parks and leisure, Polly Troughton, at the Local Data Company’s Retail Summit earlier this week.

Troughton’s logic is that these traditional Georgian seaside towns within a couple of hours travel time of London (Margate is just under 90 minutes from St Pancras on HS1) will come of age when people get priced out of places like Brighton and Sandbanks along the south coast.

This renaissance will need to happen organically, believes Troughton, with the “arty/trendy set” moving in first and buying up heritage buildings that are currently wrecks at bargain basement prices. Cafes and independent retailers will follow this crowd and then the mass market operators will be drawn like moths to a flame.

In Margate’s case the fundamentals are already in place (full disclosure – I live there). The Turner Gallery, which opened its doors in 2011, has attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists and spawned a vibrant gallery scene in the old town, along with a host of cool cafes, vintage stores and other independent retailers. And the opening of the first phase of the Dreamland heritage theme park later this summer, which has already attracted media coverage from as far afield as the LA Times, will prove to be a further draw.

But as the tentacles of gentrification start to spread throughout the town – Costa became the first branded national operator to sign for a unit on the void stricken high street for a number of years when it opened its doors late last year – so too comes problems. Margate was awarded £100,000 as one of the original Portas Pilot towns and featured in a TV show fronted by retail expert Mary Portas in 2011.

It was revealed last month that the owner of the Kiss Me Quick gift shop – who starred in the TV show – may be forced to move from his current store, which is situated on The Parade facing the harbour, due to spiralling rent. Based on anecdotal evidence he’s not the only business owner in the town who has been forced to vacate their premises following lease renewal negotiations, with landlords looking to inflate rental values to capitalise on the growing interest in their units from potential new occupiers – many of whom do not currently have a presence in the town.

Gentrification always comes at a cost, with families and businesses with long standing ties to areas commonly uprooted. As a result the social and cultural fabrics of towns can be irrevocably changed. So although the idea of seeing Margate magically transformed into the ‘Brighton of the North Kent coast’ has some obvious attractions (a giant leap in the value of my home being one of them), hopefully this can be achieved without the town losing its traditional British seaside ‘kiss me quick’ character and charm, as championed by Chas and Dave in their 1982 hit song.

Election 2015: how Property Week readers intend to vote

Posted by: Adam Branson, Wed, 4 Feb 2015

As part of our pre-election coverage, this week we’re publishing the results of a survey of our readers, detailing voting intention, preferred outcome in the event of another hung parliament and what policy changes would make the most difference to policy.

Election 2015

The political hue of our readership came as no great surprise, with a majority (61%) stating they would be voting for the Tories. However, the margin of that majority did surprise Steve Norris, the former Conservative minister, chairman of Soho Estates and Property Week columnist.

The fact, he told me, that almost 40% of our readers intended to vote for any party other than the Tories is “a shocking indictment of the Conservative Party”.

To Norris’ mind, only the Tories would deliver on the property industry’s priorities – further liberalisation of planning, canning Labour’s proposed mansion tax etc – so for so many Property Week readers to state they would hand their vote to another party says a lot about the Conservatives’ problems heading into the election.

If they can’t count on property professionals’ support then whose?

In fact, when preferences were solicited on what should happen in the event of a hung parliament, it became clear that our readers do indeed sit to the right of centre. In total, 76% of readers want a Tory-led administration, whether that’s as a minority government or in coalition with the Lib Dems or UKIP.

So it turns out our readers are representative of England (not the UK) as a whole. Such is the public’s disdain for the main parties that the Conservatives (and Labour) are struggling to reach more than their core vote. The rise of UKIP on the right and Greens on the left (not to mention the ludicrously high polling enjoyed by the SNP north of the border) make this the hardest election to call in decades.

Read the survey results here.

MIPIM on my mind

Posted by: Richard Williams, Mon, 2 Feb 2015

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It seems I can’t go anywhere at the moment without talk quickly turning to Cannes and MIPIM.

While meeting an array of property guys and gals in recent weeks there is one common feeling when discussing the show: sheer excitement.

I am a virgin to property’s biggest annual event, having joined Property Week a week before last year’s networking marathon, so I cannot gauge whether this level of enthusiasm is normal in January and February. It seems everywhere I go and whoever I talk to I am asked whether I’m going, told about the best parties to attend and have numerous stories recounted to me – mostly in far too graphic detail for a Monday morning.

Some, if not most, cannot be repeated here through fear of getting a rather stern legal letter. But the one story, which I am told sums up MIPIM to a tee, is a beauty. Egged on by a bating crowd, a couple of senior property investors (who will remain nameless) took themselves to the beach for an impromptu after-party skinny dip. All well and good and I’m sure we’ve all been there. Only thing is the next morning at a scheduled meeting the two shook hands, seemingly for the first time and had to be told they had already made acquaintances the night before.

Now only five weeks away, I can only take on the advice of the many seasoned MIPIM pros – train your liver.

Introducing London's biggest housing project: Crossrail 2

Posted by: A JRH, Mon, 26 Jan 2015

Crossrail trains

Trains have yet to roll on London’s Crossrail line, but already planning for its £27bn sister scheme is well advanced, with the mayor’s office placing huge emphasis on the project as a development opportunity that can unlock 200,000 homes.

Boris Johnson has been banging the drum for the long-mooted Hackney to Chelsea line, now known as Crossrail 2, for some time, with the mayor’s office arguing the project is critical to meet London’s growth.The project received a boost late last year, when George Osborne committed government cash to support the development of the business case and wrote a piece in the Evening Standard setting out the importance of the project.

Next month Transport for London’s head of planning Michelle Dix takes up her new role as managing director of Crossrail 2, charged with taking forward the development of detailed route proposals and building a business case for the project.

Already it’s clear that the mayor’s office has learnt lessons from Crossrail and is treating Crossrail 2 as an integrated transport and development project from the get go.

In an interview with Property Week this month,Dix and Boris Johnson’s aviation adviser Daniel Moylan, who was given a new role championing Crossrail 2 in September, said the Greater London Authority wanted to use Crossrail 2 to unlock 200,000 new homes along the route.

These will primarily be located in the Upper Lee Valley, where the local boroughs support housing growth, it is also clear that the project will be seeking to generate much higher density developments around the new Crossrail 2 stations.

“We need to make sure with Crossrail 2 the development around the stations can be maximised,” says Dix. “If you’ve got these good stations with good accessibility, we want to be able to have high-density development around those stations — not low-density low-rise.”

This will involve targeting a wider area around a station for development than was the case for Crossrail 2, with more of a focus on masterplanning the development – an approach that will also entail convincing local councils to permit higher densities and, more than likely, taller buildings around the station hubs.

It will also involve putting the development opportunities catalysed by the project at the very centre of the business case for it, broadening the argument for Crossrail beyond the rather narrow transport-focused cost-benefit analysis employed by central government.

“We will prove our case using their methodologies, because what we don’t want is them to dismiss our cases because we don’t tick their boxes,” says Dix.

“Our case for the project ticks all [government’s] boxes, but we want to make it stronger by adopting new approaches that look at the economic contribution that transport makes in terms of the development opportunities that it opens up, the homes it allows to be built, the jobs that people can access with it being there. We are building all of that into it.

“We will do more on Crossrail 2 – going beyond Crossrail 1 - on trying to influence the government in going forward to make the case that the wider benefits from transport projects should be included so that they can be adopted as part of a standard at a later date.”

This shift in thinking about major transport projects as integrated transport and development projects can already be seen in the way David Cameron and George Osborne changed the way they talked about HS2 last year.
Prompted by the appointment of Sir David Higgins to head up the project, HS2 became less about speed and much more about addressing capacity and catalysing economic development.

But the challenge remains to convince the mandarins in Whitehall to change their methodology.

For more Crossrail 2 and a full interview with Michele Dix and Daniel Moylan

crossrail map

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