After a tumultuous 2020, property’s leading figures share their hopes and expectations for 2021 as the year gets off to a rocky start with yet another lockdown.

Michael Hughes, CEO, Verdion

Michael Hughes

Chief executive, Verdion

Clearly, the impact of the coronavirus crisis is huge and not yet fully known. Its effects on health, livelihoods, relationships and mental health for millions of people cannot be underestimated.

Brexit remains an unknown factor too, especially in the short term. We still have a great deal of uncertainty to navigate.

Nevertheless, when it comes to logistics, we can be optimistic. E-commerce continues to grow, particular in the grocery sector, which has been turbo-charged by last year’s unprecedented demand. More people are choosing online shopping and this major shift in consumer habits looks set to continue.

Pharmaceuticals and manufacturing are also active, with new regulations and technologies driving change.

There is opportunity for those who can adapt quickly in this environment. The challenge will be space, especially in edge of centre locations.

Customers are demanding ever-faster delivery and this means finding better ways for urban logistics to integrate with the homes, businesses and community facilities it serves.

Olivia Harris

Olivia Harris

Chief executive, Dolphin Living

The impact of Covid-19 on central London has been huge and, whilst a lot of office workers have been able to work from home, those who rely on office workers for their livelihood have suffered. Covid has drawn attention to the need to re-evaluate ‘key worker’ terminology and make it relevant to the present day and our new ways of working.

At Dolphin Living, we define key workers as the people who make the city tick, including chefs, nurses, drivers and designers, with particular focus on those who need to live near their place of work. Many of these workers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and need our support in order to weather it.

My hope for 2021 is that we’ll be able to safely return to offices and, in turn, support the city and those within it. This support must come in several forms and I hope that 2021 will bring an increased awareness of the importance of key workers to the social and economic fabric of cities like London and a drive to provide homes they can afford.

Matthew Weiner 1

Matthew Weiner

Chief executive, U+I

The promise of multiple effective vaccines gives us real cause for optimism. Irrespective of how well Brexit goes, the damage to our urban centres runs deep. The hope is that recovery post-pandemic can happen quickly.

The fear is that the rapid acceleration of change across sectors such as retail, leisure and hospitality and the depth of the recession will mean the damage wrought is structurally debilitating and recovery will take much longer. Public finances have taken a huge hit so it must be down to the private sector to drive forward recovery in 2021.

We have to attack that challenge with energy, imagination and innovation. We must challenge conventional thinking and, wherever possible, work hand-in-hand with our public sector partners to achieve transformative outcomes.

That’s what U+I will be doing, bringing a laser-like focus to the delivery of our circa £11bn pipeline so that transformational projects like the £1.4bn regeneration of Mayfield in Manchester, Circus Street in Brighton, Morden Wharf in Greenwich and our town centre regeneration of the Kent town of Sittingbourne, have the lasting, sustainable, transformative economic and social impact that we put at the heart of all our projects.

Nigel Hugill

Nigel Hugill

Chief executive, Urban & Civic

The current consensus is that there will be major cracks in the housing market when stamp duty returns and unemployment bites. I am not so sure. After a successful Covid-19 vaccine rollout and five years of Brexit, the overwhelming sense will be of blessed relief.

The number of people out of work will peak lower than forecast and fall most heavily on the over-55s who have mostly paid down their mortgages or the under-30s who never had one in the first place. Any significant collapse will be in rents, not prices.

Unoccupied rentals and a maintaining dearth of Airbnb income may force some residential sales but only in specific and overbought city centre locations. Even then, the low cost of money plus blind-eyed mortgagees will protect against any real distress.

Meanwhile, rethought homebuyer priorities and enforced saving for those in work will continue to drive demand to live within walking distance of good schools, green spaces without locked gates and room to Zoom, all served by ever-faster broadband.

Three-day commuting will sort itself out across the week, freeing up public transport capacity. The government, quietly buoyed by the boundary changes, will say that was what was intended all along.

Faisal Butt

Faisal Butt

Chief executive, founder and chairman, Pi Labs

Last year was a year like no other. At Pi Labs we have remained committed to both supporting our existing portfolio companies and making new investments.

Global crises can spark a wave of innovation and we’re witnessing early signs that this will happen now in response to Covid-19, with the future looking to be shaped by a new array of start-ups and technologies, including those in the proptech space.

This year, we have invested in a range of new start-ups across our multiple investment themes, including the future of real estate investment management, ConTech and the future of work.

We expect to see strong investment in proptech in the medium and long-term as the digitisation of real estate gathers pace. Investors will be looking for opportunities as technology becomes intrinsic in shaping the future of work, cities and retail, offering tech solutions to enable businesses to operate digitally and remotely.”

Continue to part 10 here

Forecast for 2021: looking ahead with hope