In welcome news for UK proptech start-ups, Fifth Wall, the California based venture capital fund focused on tech in the built environment and the real estate arm of BNP Paribas have set up a new £91million UK fund to invest in proptech start-ups in the UK and Europe. 

Susan Freeman

Susan Freeman

With the acceleration of the adoption of tech solutions brought about by the pandemic, this is well timed, so watch this space. As Fifth Wall MD Roelof Opperman commented, ‘We believe the European proptech market is underpenetrated and has significant room to grow.’

The commercial use of drones and other flying vehicles is a particular interest of mine and something that I touched upon in my very first podcast which happened to be with Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, and also in my podcast with economist and award-winning author Dr Pippa Malmgren whose company H Robotics manufactures drones. So a recent Bloomberg piece reporting that Hyundai Motor Group, South Korea’s biggest automaker, is stepping up its pursuit of flying cars caught my eye.

Apparently they are planning a full range of aerial vehicles that they envisage populating city skies in the next ten years. They are even working on five or six person models and a larger version to fly between cities, They commented, ‘People who are always stuck in traffic on the road will realize how convenient it is to move via aerial vehicles,’ ‘That is when we will see demand explode.’ Dror Poleg author of ‘Rethinking Real Estate’ responded on twitter, ‘Autonomy will come into its own in the sky.

It’s just so much easier up there’. Since we could be heading to vehicle saturation on our central London roads, how are we doing in terms of the regulation of air rights to allow for increased demand on our air space?

Following on from our digital Labour Party Conference debate we hosted our Conservative Party Conference event this week with London Communications Agency. Once again we had a great guest list made up of politicians, property companies and thought leaders to debate London’s recovery in a post COVID world and as always the conversation was entirely different from that at the Labour event.


Source: Shutterstock/ 167436140

If I get a minute, I will try to write an overview of what was said. For the moment, I will simply mention the suggestion from Patricia Brown of Central that, as London recovers from COVID, we need to build back its layers much like a giant game of Jenga, the block stacking game, in order to create a self-sustaining economy. She sees this an opportunity to create a new vision for London and capture to the many positives and reduce the negatives. I for one look forward to participating in the rebuilding exercise. And as we said at the end of the debate, next year in Manchester!

After a year away, those of us who are regular party conference goers, are craving the discomfort of the dodgy hotels, indifferent food and warm wine and political intrigue that mark the party conference season.

I was also delighted to host the second in our Mishcon Academy digital real estate series, this time focusing on the future of offices. Our stellar panel, selected for being advocates for change and progress in the office sector, included Charlie Green: Joint Founder and Co-CEO, The Office Group, Richard Howard: Head of London Leasing, Cushman & Wakefield, Ronen Journo: SVP, Enterprise & Workplace, WeWork and Emily Prideaux: Director of Leasing, Derwent London. We had a spirited and engaging conversation on the future of the office sector and the exciting changes that we are likely to see. The consensus was that we are still early on in the journey so with the current speed of change we will need to reassemble in six months to see how things are progressing.

We talked about the opportunities and challenges facing the office market, including investor and occupier trends, changing uses and demands, and the impact of issues such as sustainability, health and wellness, and technology. It was clear from our session that the office is by no means dead but that corporates are likely to review its purpose, focus and function. Working practices had started to change pre COVID but the pandemic, and the enforced home working experiment has served to accelerate that change. Look out for the 15 minute highlights film coming shortly.

The timing of Chris Kane’s soon to be published new book Where Is My Office: Reimagining the Workplace for the 21st Century really couldn’t have been better. His extensive experience as head of workplace at the BBC and before that as head of international corporate real estate for the Walt Disney Company makes this recommended reading.

The book quotes former US President John F Kennedy, ‘Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future’. As Kane commented, ‘There is an over-emphasis on the physical ‘workplace’ viewing it purely as a fixed destination where work is carried out. Alternative working practices can produce meaningful outcomes and measurable impact - irrespective of the physical space where people are working. The office is not dead but it is not going back to normal it will be more of a new reality’.

We are getting used to the fact that life in the time of COVID involves a lot of mask wearing. However the recent edict from the Governor of California’s office urging diners to wear masks “in between bites” when they went out to eat seemed to be a little excessive. But at least smart masks are starting to come through so perhaps there will be a mask you can eat through. In the meantime, the World Economic Forum brings news that a Japanese company has invented a mask that translates into eight languages. The smart mask displays your speech as text on a phone via a microphone in the mask which connects to a phone app.

Incredibly, today is the 25th anniversary of my starting at Mishcon. I know this because the most amazing cake arrived at home. And it’s not just any cake, it’s more a work of art. The many highlights depicted include twitter star Rupert the dog, annual pilgrimages to MIPIM, New Forest ponies, my podcast and a brilliant Kodak moment with the Bishop of London at a cocktail party.

The cake has attracted almost as much attention on twitter as my tweet about camouflaging wheelie bins! The problem is that it is so exquisite, I can’t possibly eat it. In normal circumstances this occasion would be celebrated with a party in the office but we are going to have to defer this for the moment. Please do get in touch if you would like details of the talented creator.

Clearly absolutely nothing is sacred at the moment. News is out that, due to ongoing travel restrictions and quarantine regulations, MIPIM 2021 in Cannes will be moving from its time honoured March slot to the 7th to 10th June. We will be slotting in after MIDEM, the music business trade show so there may still be some colourful creative types in town. Looking on the positive side, the weather should be more reliable than it has been for the last few years and we can leave the raincoats and umbrellas at home.

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya

Related blogs by Susan Freeman:

Propertyshe perspectives: power outages, coworking during Covid-19, Wellcome Trust’s Peter Pereira Gray plus national treasure Stephen Fry

Propertyshe persepctives: making the most of virtual relationships, the importance of finding collaborative solutions and being seen to do the right thing

Propertyshe perspectives: the impact of Covid-19 on offices, construction site safety and personalised face masks

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Propertyshe perspectives: our new reality, climate change and the Mipim editor’s dinner

Propertyshe perspectives: news from Mishcon Singapore and IPSX; MIPIM virtual and actual; plus don’t cut marketing costs in a recession

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Propertyshe Perspectives: Interview with London Transport’s Graeme Craig, embracing new retail opportunities, urban innovation and spending and looking after the pennies

Propertyshe Perspectives: preparing for a safe return to work, London transport and the role of technology in managing real estate

Propertyshe perspectives: The welcome return of retail, the climate crisis challenge call to arms, the future of the workplace, fixed and flex, making planning fit for the future

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Propertyshe perspectives: West End could see teddy bears’ picnics, we’ll hear more about B Corps, buildings could have bigger health impact than our doctors, keep calm and persevere

- Propertyshe perspectives: As theatres struggle to survive we must support our culture, Mishcon and HM Land Registry distributed ledger prototype enables digital transfer of property

- Propertyshe perspectives: The old high street model is dead, localism on steroids needed, Dagwood is the place to be for film makers, and don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater

- Propertyshe Perspectives: Getting back to work, masking up, the future of the office in London and New York with The Real Deal and how Quintain CEO James Saunders became a convert to real estate

- Propertyshe Perspectives: London v New York real estate, more dialogue needed between government and local authorities plus; positive news for Lewisham

- Propertyshe Perspectives: Retail news and turnover rents, from Fifth Wall to The Fifth Space via the Reimagining Real Estate Virtual Summit, and the climate change emergency

Propertyshe Perspectives: Reactions to proposed planning overhaul, the role of SME builders, podcast with High Streets Task Force chair & an American view of creating successful shopping centres

- Propertyshe Perspectives: To mark Simon Silver’s announcement that he’s stepping down from the Derwent London board, some highlights from our 2015 ‘Step-brothers in arms’ interview

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