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.

James Mulhall

MD, Murphy Mulhall

Covid has intensified the debate around the future of the office, but the initial frenzied speculation about the demise of desk and chair space has thankfully given way to a more measured debate. I hope to see renewed confidence in the office as the most valuable human component of work in 2021 as leasing deals once again get signed.

At some point, the great home working experiment will begin to ease off and many white-collar workers will move to a hybrid model that maximises the efficiencies offered by both the office and home working environments.

This ‘blast and blend’ model will see workers attending the office for condensed hours to focus on high value/impact work and fitting homeworking around this to complete more process-driven tasks.

I believe this subtle evolution in working practices is here to stay and that the revolution that forces the office into obsolescence will never materialise.

We have seen the mental health side effects of non-office attendance emerging, with workers weary of the Zoom/Teams weekly hamster wheel. Companies will need to respond to a blended working model by offering flexibility such as ditching traditional starting and finishing times.

Office spaces will need to reinforce the safety message and create productive and inspiring spaces in which to work and do business.

Simon Ryan

Investment director, Locate in Kent

In 2020, town-centre regeneration was at the top of people’s minds, with opportunities to reinvent how residents live and work through, for example, the increase of co-working establishments and initiatives to support local businesses.

This trend is likely to grow in 2021 as the workplace continues to be flexible and local businesses develop new operations to compete with leading brands.

E-commerce demand has skyrocketed. It is strategically important that the logistics sector keeps growing and thriving as it is key for employment and sustainable economic growth.

With its competitive connectivity and growing infrastructure, Kent is exceptionally well placed to help businesses maximise opportunities for expansion.

We also expect hydrogen technology to become mainstream, particularly looking at how sectors including manufacturing, life sciences and construction operate.

Many sites are testing hydrogen fuel, and creating their own supply using renewable solar and geothermal energy.

Kent is at the forefront of hydrogen technology, with hydrogen plants granted planning permission across the county, including a new green plant facility near Herne Bay. There is a strong desire for change, and we’re excited to embrace this new technology.

Ross Feeney

CEO, Tunbridge Wells’ BID

We believe 2021 will herald an accelerated focus on regional offices and wellbeing after the pandemic, with a particular demand for locations within an hour of London, with open spaces and thriving business communities. London corporates are already shedding space and looking to deploy a hub and spoke model.

Towns like Tunbridge Wells will benefit thanks to thousands of commuters who will not travel as regularly, excellent local talent, existing corporate HQs and plenty of opportunities for investment and development.

Corporates will also look to sponsor employees’ hotdesking closer to home to achieve a better work/life balance, which means a growing demand for collaborative and flexible working spaces. This is why we have launched a #TWWorks campaign to attract such corporates to set up here.

We also expect and hope to see retail space used less for conversion to resi via permitted development rights, and more for repurposing office or business space. We believe more offices on the high street will mean a stronger local catchment for the surrounding retail and leisure and a catalyst for a more positive future of the high street.

We are confident 2021 will be the year of real business growth for South East regional towns and are excited to see this accelerate longer term economic success.

John Alexander

John Alexander

Leader of Dundee City Council and chair of the Scottish Cities Alliance

Obviously, it will take time for everyone to be immunised, and the logistical challenges are another mountain to climb, but looking beyond that, I and my fellow Scottish city leaders want to get back to working together to demonstrate the opportunities Scottish cities offer – not just for investment, but the quality of life they offer.

I hope I can get back to meeting my family, constituents and the business community. I look forward to coming back to London to speak with key investors, spreading the message that Scotland’s cities have investment opportunities across the range of scale and sectors and meeting people face to face. I think that’s something we have all missed.

During lockdown, I have met with a lot of investors via Teams which has been hugely beneficial as they see the potential, not only in my own city of Dundee, but across the seven cities of Scotland.

Rob Stewart

Leader, Swansea Council

With the £1bn transformation of Swansea progressing strongly, I hope and expect to see our city realise its potential as one of the most vibrant places to live, work, visit and study in the UK. We want to inspire other regions that are taking similar pragmatic approaches to improve their areas.

In Swansea, we are well advanced with one of the UK’s largest urban transformations, including a new cultural district, Copr Bay, which is due for completion this year.

In a rapidly changing world, many aspects of life have changed forever due to the pandemic. People want to work closer to home, or even at home, meaning significant growth demand in regional cities. We also need to encourage students to remain in the area after graduation. That creates an increased need for commercial space and homes within pleasing surroundings.

Environmental considerations, like the new coastal park at Copr Bay and the city’s ‘green artery’, highlight how health and wellbeing of populations can be better addressed, as well as the needs of our planet. That is why I expect 2021 to see more places follow our lead so they too are well-placed for the post-pandemic world.

Continue to part 41 here

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