mipim UK

Last week saw the launch of mipim UK in London. Whilst the organisers and name of the event may be consistent with the annual property pilgrimage to Cannes in the south of France, the event in London was actually very different. Initially I was very negative about it on Wednesday, but the event grew on me through the week.

I’ve talked lots on this blog about what defines mipim in Cannes and how unique it is in terms of an annual event of value to the property market. The UK event was really more of an Expo; a collection of stands which varied from Local Authorities, Developers, Investors, Law firms and the odd Consultant. It was really a show of the regions and everyone was ‘open for business’ (?). Unlike Cannes, the action/ events outside of the conference seemed very limited. I guess a large proportion of delegates were London based so would have been visiting the event, rather than basing themselves there. I also read that 80% of delegates were mipim first timers.

Getting into the conference proved a challenge on the first day as a public protest blocked the entrance to Olympia and even involved mud being thrown, literally. See the Guardian piece on it here.

The talks (well, the ones I could actually get into!) were focused on; a) the seemingly infinite expansion on London fueled of course by foreign investment, and b) The future of our regional cities. The exhibitor presence seemed to major more on the regional cities than London. One key observation was that Manchester and Liverpool shared a stand; promoting a collaborative presence, rather than competing. It seems that George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse idea has gained much momentum and support already.

Key themes which emerged from the event were;

  • Supporting devolution of power from Central Government to the Regions.
  • The long term impact of overseas Investment on the UK property market.
  • How to promote the regional economies, with HS2+3 being hailed as the answer to all.

Nottingham had a ‘proper’ presence at this event which was good. They had a brand new stand in a prime location – this was much better than the rather generic “D2N2” version used at mipim in Cannes.

On Friday I attended an interesting talk on Tall Buildings in the UK. On the panel was president elect of the RIBA Jane Duncan. One of her key messages at the moment is to promote the importance of having the best quality Planning officers within our UK Local Authorities.

We’ve been facing a few frustrations in recent months on new projects, as LA’s were quick to cut back their Planning Departments in the recession and now they are feeling the strain. The positive outcome of new buildings is heavily influenced by the Planning Process and to be quite honest our system is still pretty weak it seems to me, particularly with the new pre-application process. The key issue is that LA’s don’t see Planning as ‘income generating’ (?!). Rees Peter Wynne, who is a Professor of Places and City Planning, at UCL suggested that if we want to take Planning seriously in the future, they should teach more about it a Eton College as that’s where our future leaders seem to emerge from.

So was it worth it? I think so. I saw a good number of people I know, including clients who I spent time with. I also made a number of new connections which was useful and will hopefully lead to new opportunities.

Mipim of course is not about instant results – it’s all part of a rich organic web of profile raising and relationship development which, if managed properly, will lead to new work down the line.

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ROAD BIKE EVENTS; THE NEW BUSINESS ‘GOLF DAY’.

Last week we hosted a construction and property focussed road bike ride just a stone’s throw away from our group head office in Chesterfield. The event, named ‘Le petit tour de Derbyshire’, was made up of teams from Morgan Sindall, Simons Group, Henry Boot, Turner and Townsend, Monaghans and Vinci Construction, as well as WCEC of course.

WCEC Bike Ride_1_2

The ride was a 28 mile figure of eight road course between Bakewell and Hathersage in the Peak District and passed Chatsworth House. There was also a gruelling 3.5 mile climb close to Froggatt Edge onto the Moors.

Commenting on the event, Tom Robinson, Chief Executive of Simons Group said;

“It was really good to take part in something a bit different in terms of a business event, in part promoting cycling and health. Being so close to WCEC’s Head Office, this was a great idea. We found that the whole event was really well managed, with a challenging ride and some healthy competition. The atmosphere was informal and everyone seemed to really enjoy it”.

The idea for the ride was that of our Group Chairman James Kemp who originally suggested the idea on LinkedIn; we saw an instant response in terms of interest so it all came together quite quickly from there. The event was a big success for us and demonstrates the huge rise in popularity of road cycling in recent years.

WCEC Bike Ride_2_2

There was a charity angle to the day as well, with teams invited to make a contribution to Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice which, the business has supported and raised substantial funds for in recent years as part of our ongoing Corporate and Social Responsibility work.

In other news…

You might have noticed that the blog has been a bit quiet recently; life seems very busy at the moment! Certainly from a work perspective, we have a significant amount of project work and new opportunities coming through.

From my point of view our Residential and Student Living teams are very busy. We are now working with a number of student living clients, from established national operators to emerging players. Our first scheme, a circa £30m new-build, is now on site in Ealing London, working with GB Group and The Collective. In recent weeks I’ve been racking up some big miles travelling all over the country as a number of other projects are nearing instruction. More to follow on these soon…

Last week WCEC Group were awarded the Gold certification under Investors in People; the highest attainable accreditation level on the scheme. This is a huge achievement for us and again underlines our level of focus and investment in our staff, who are by far our greatest assets.

This evening we are hosting our annual London drinks event in Mayfair with a high profile guest list attending. Next week is the first MIPIM UK. I’ll be there (although the jury is out on how it will compare to the global MIPIM event in Cannes). One thing we can be almost certain of; the weather won’t be as good and travel could be a nightmare thanks to planned strike action on the London Underground!

Major building fire in Nottingham. Industry impact

Last Friday evening news started to break of a large fire at the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee campus. News broadcasters and social media channels were streaming live images of a major incident unfolding. Thankfully nobody was hurt. However the fire it seems was a significant one. It completely destroyed the new £15m GlaxoSmithKline building which was around 70% built by Morgan Sindall.

Jubilee Campus Fire 2014
I know the University quite well having led the design and delivery of two new-build projects in the past, one of which is on the Jubilee campus. I was last down there just a few months ago for a meeting and saw this building emerging.

The proposal for the GSK building was innovative and placed a substantial emphasis on sustainability. The laboratory building was intended to be carbon-neutral over its lifetime and also targeted BREEAM ‘Oustanding’.

The fire investigations will hopefully reveal both the cause of the fire and why the damage was so total in terms of destruction. But one thing we do know is that the building had a structural timber frame, as oppose to more traditional steel/ concrete methods.

GSK University of Nottingham Fire
The use of timber in buildings has increased a lot in recent years, mainly due to its ‘green’ credentials. In simple terms; trees can be re-planted, whereas the environmental damage imposed by Steel and Concrete production are much greater. However, timber is also a solid fuel for fires and therefore risks are increased when using the material  in construction, especially where the full fire protection strategy isn’t fully in place (protection to structure, compartmentation of the building, sprinkler systems etc).

As it happens I worked on a timber framed student accommodation development with the University out at their Sutton Bonington campus a few years back. When we did this, we had to ensure that robust life safety evacuation procedures were in place during the build at all times, meaning more temporary escape stairs were formed on the building.

There have been mixed views in the construction industry for sometime now about the use of timber framed buildings, specifically in relation to fire risk and associated insurances. In July 2006 a six-storey apartment block in Colindale, North London caught fire during construction and the structure collapsed in less than nine minutes.

The fire last week is a setback for the University and I wish the teams involved in rebuilding this project the very best. But I strongly suspect the risks/ issues around using timber framed buildings will resurface within the industry, sooner rather than later. Clients, Construction firms and insurance companies will once again focus on whether timber framed buildings really are sustainable? – in more ways than one of course.

UoN Fire VC Blog

 

An open letter to Apple…

Dear Apple Inc,

I’ve been using your devices for a number of years now. In fact I have come to rely heavily on both your iPhone and iPad products for my day to day business. Notwithstanding the hopeless battery life on the phone particularly, both products have been pretty reliable.

I have updated the software as new releases have been issued by you to keep my devices up to date. However in using iOS 7.1.2 in recent months you appear to have created a conflict with .PDF file formats. I am now unable to view .PDF files on my devices properly. This is kind of critical to me as I both send and receive a lot of .PDF files.

Bad AppleSo my question is really very simple; When (after several months of waiting now!) are you planning to rectify this??

I’m looking forward to the imminent release of the iPhone 6 (or other such name), but my choice to acquire this when released will depend heavily on me being able to access .PDF files properly.

In the interim I will continue to consider switching to a Samsung Galaxy or perhaps the HTC one…

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Thank you.

Nick Riley.

One ‘Oarsome’ Expedition

Two young men, one rowing boat, and a non-stop unsupported trip across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Salcombe!

Ocean Valour 2015_3
Every year we head down to Salcombe in Devon for our family summer holiday. This year I spotted a distinctive looking rowing boat out on the water. After a bit of searching I discovered ‘Team Ocean Valour‘; two young local adventurers who are planning an epic rowing expedition next May (2015). Their adventure has a compelling story so I contacted Tom Rainey and Sam Coombs to find out a bit more, and offered to help raise their profile a bit by writing a blog…

Their challenge is for the pair of them to cross the North Atlantic, from New York to Salcombe, in a rowing boat. Their objective is to be the youngest ever team to row from mainland USA to the mainland UK, entirely unsupported. To give some context to their mission, it’s a crossing which has been attempted around 60 times and completed by just 22 (with 5 crews lost at sea!) in 118 years of records. By compassion there have been over 5000 successful summits of Mount Everest.

Ocean Valour 2015_1
The idea emerged to raise funds for The Brain Tumour Charity, an organisation particularly close to Tom’s heart after sadly losing his father Luke in late 2012. The guys also wanted to use the row to raise awareness of the growing North Atlantic Garbage Patch; an area of man-made debris which stretches hundreds of square kilometers, with over 200,000 pieces of debris per square km. This is largely plastics which never dissolve and have a significant detrimental impact on the life of seabirds and marine mammals.

These two graduates are in their early twenties and have spent their whole life on/ around water. They studied Marine Environment at University in Plymouth and have represented GB sailing around the world. They are also surfers, ultra marathon runners and extreme white water kayakers. It’s safe to assume these guys don’t do things by halves!

I met Tom last weekend and had a tour around their amazing £45k rowing boat, purpose built by ocean rowing specialists Sea Sabre. The trip will cover 3800 miles and they will experience freezing conditions, winds of up to 80mph and waves equivalent to seven-storey buildings! This is one seriously hardcore 2+ month long Ice Bucket Challenge…in a rowing boat!

Ocean Valour 2015_4
The boat is pretty basic really, but has some important essentials…

  • It has the latest Communications and GPS/ Navigation kit which will help them navigate and be seen on the Ocean.
  • There’s solar panels for power and a water machine can convert sea water into drinking water.
  • Speakers have been built into central area so they can play music from iPods.
  • They have a Sea Anchor which is like a parachute. This will help them from drifting off course in bad weather.
  • The sleeping area is Bijou, but adequate for both of them to fit in. However they’ll be doing a constant 2 hour rotation most of the time for rowing.

I really admire what these guys are doing, it’s a genuinely massive undertaking and one they seem to understand well. They also have some experienced people around them who are advising. This expedition has to be ranked highly in terms of challenging the human body to its absolute limits, both physically and mentally. The reality is that not many people could do this sort of thing.

You can see more of their story as it happens on their website and donate to the mission for The Brain Tumour Charity. They want to raise £250,000, on top of their costs.

Personally I reckon they could smash this target, especially if they get some support so please help spread the word…

www.oceanvalour.co.uk
Follow them on Twitter @OV2015
Follow their page on Facebook ‘Ocean Valour 2015′

The UK Construction funnel problem

Earlier this year I attended a conference in London where Mark Farmer of EC Harris articulated some serious concern about the volume of construction activity in the pipeline and the likely ‘blockage’ that would occur with Main Contractors and Sub-Contractors, specifically in relation to their ability to respond to market demands. The issue being a lack of resources – and materials in some cases (brick availability being a big problem).

It seems that investors and developers have funds and are pushing projects forward at pace now – some of which are large, especially in the Residential sector. However the anticipated delivery/ supply chain blockage is now being realised…

UK Construction Funnel

At present we are engaged in the development of circa 3500+ Residential dwellings in London on numerous sites. In addition, following recent instructions, we have a fairly similar figure again in the UK regions – Manchester being a particular hotspot. Our Residential team is continuing to grow with our group team nearing 130 staff in recent weeks.

Our work winning success seems to be as a result of our focused/ efficient operating model, the scale and diversity of our team experience, and our extensive use of BIM. A big strategic focus for the group is on diversification and this is working very well for us. We’ve recently been appointed on Student Living, Education, Industrial and Healthcare related projects, in addition to our existing ever growing port-folio of Residential, Retail and Leisure work.

One thing that’s fueling the surge of major projects in construction is the significant interest and activity in the emerging ‘built to rent’ or ‘private rented sector’ (PRS), to deliver large Residential products, these are funded by institutional and international funds. This is something we’re involved with at present.

Our London projects are perhaps proving the most challenging at present, in terms of Tender dialogue, as Main Contractors are needing to be very selective about what they can physically handle. Furthermore sub-contractors are struggling to respond to pre-construction programme demands in terms of finalising designs and cost plans.

So the wider impact of all this could be significant, with cost plans rising and construction programme’s becoming protracted in some cases. It’s been reported in the press over the last week or so that brick layers are earning £1000 a week now. There’s a sense of the tail waging the dog here!

This issue won’t resolve itself quickly. There is now a clear skills and resources shortage in the Construction industry which simply can’t handle the current demands of the Property and Investment sector.

There’s a real irony here of course; The Construction sector has been the worst affected by the recession, by some margin. Now the recovery has recently occurred so quickly that the sector simply can’t cope with demand. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the 12 months as developers and contractors race to complete projects on site.

So whilst we as architects are incredibly busy bringing new developments to market, the challenge will remain for sometime yet in terms of building these on site effectively.

Measurable results from MIPIM…

Every February/ March, the property world talks lots about MIPIM. It’s a big annual property conference in Cannes, I’ve blogged a number of times about it. People who haven’t been or don’t understand MIPIM, can see it as an extravagance and there are always questions about what you get from it. The honest answer is, you don’t come back with an order book full of projects. It’s about making connections. Some of those connections take time and the right opportunity to develop to the next stage.

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The last week seems to have been a strong one in terms of developing MIPIM connections. I have;

- Set up a meeting between two developers I met at MIPIM this year. Whilst it’s early days, this introduction could prove very valuable.

- I’ve made contact with a high profile architect I had dinner with at MIPIM in 2013 and we’re discussing a potential collaboration for a high-rise development in London we’re involved with.

- I’ve set up a meeting with a high profile developer to discuss a Student Living brand of their residential development business.

These are all results of meetings I would not have had, or not been able to set up easily, back in the UK. To start a conversation or email with “We met at MIPIM…” always opens the door in my experience. So I’m reminded again that MIPIM is important and can add real value to doing business in property.

In October there will be the first MIPIM UK event. I’m in two minds as to whether the MIPIM of Cannes can be recreated in London. I have strong doubts as to whether it will work. I’m sure people will go, but it simply can’t be the same as Cannes and I question whether people will generate connections in the same way.

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