Exciting Disruptors

Exciting Disruptors Blog

Welcome to our blog where will be exploring and commenting on disruptors and the issues you will face.

Please do comment and let us know your thoughts.

If you would like to write a blog for the Exciting Disruptors community, please email Exciting.Disruptors@mills-reeve.com.


Giving the annual EG Peter Wilson Lecture on 26 February, Dame Fiona Reynolds, current Master of Emmanuel College and former Director-General of the National Trust, gave a rallying cry for the importance of incorporating beauty into our modern landscapes and development.

Dame Fiona urged us never to take our green spaces for granted. Incredibly, stunning areas of our countryside, such as the Lake District and Peak District, were not formally protected until after the Second World War. Equally, who could imagine London without its havens of green spaces? However, a change in the law, a new government and these beautiful escapes could be lost forever.

Why is it, she asked, that we would never want to knock down Ely Cathedral or a Cambridge College? The answer is because they are beautiful. They were built to last and complement the natural environment and to stand the test of time. However, this does not mean that we should be stuck in the past. Dame Fiona challenged developers to build more beautifully, taking a holistic approach, rather than focusing solely on meeting housing targets.

Making a development attractive and sustainable should not be a last-minute consideration - once the design is complete and if there is enough money left. It must drive every aspect of the design and planning process. After all, people are more likely to want to live and work in a beautiful development.

Making better use of our existing development space is just as important, such as regenerating our high streets by developing accommodation above shopping parades. However, when it is much easier, and often more economical, to build from scratch on bare land, ultimately, will investors be prepared to take a risk on more complex developments?

With the ever-increasing need for development, the Lecture was a salutary reminder that our environment requires constant protection and support to ensure that our development complements the landscape, rather than being a blot on it.

Terms like “light and bright”, “airy” and “spacious” have long been used by marketers trying to sell, or let, commercial property.

And while such words may have become platitudes by their over-use, the truth is that more than ever, these are things which the modern office worker values and benefits from. Far from an abstract concept about what people want from their workplace, there’s now plenty of evidence to suggest that people will be happier, healthier and more productive in a space which has optimal levels of CO2, lighting, temperature and sound. These are factors which have shaped the design of Kirkstall Forge.

For example, when CO2 levels go up, we tend to feel drowsy. When this is done subtly, strategic thinking can be reduced by up to 15 per cent. Extrapolating that figure from the individual, to the entire workforce, turns it into a major concern for any business.

Similarly, temperature plays a big part in productivity, with figures showing a drop of between 3 and 10 per cent when conditions are above 28C.

Even things like daylight play a part, with good access to light - be it via large windows, exterior spaces, or both - improving things like sleep patterns and happiness.

For the real estate industry, the challenge is to make offices which not only satisfy today’s workers, but look ahead to the future and how technology can be used to address increasingly important factors like air quality, light and sound. At Kirkstall Forge, these issues have been priorities throughout the design and construction process, so you’ll find floor-to-ceiling windows, well-laid out workspaces and plenty of breakout areas. The unique location of Kirkstall Forge also means those who live and work here have plenty of access to beautiful outdoor space.

Find out more about CEG here

View the Kirkstall Forge development here


On 3 October, we will be hosting our second Exciting Disruptors event with Bruntwood and NORR Architects at Platform in Leeds. We will be exploring how traditional forms of living and working are a thing of the past and discuss how the real estate sector is adapting to meet the needs of a new type of customer.

Bruntwood and NORR Architects will discuss how they have identified the demand to change how we live and work and how they and their clients continue to evolve to be more competitive, agile and customer focused. 

The event will also cover the increased focus planners and developers have on the mental and physical wellbeing of occupiers in the workplace.

Guests will enjoy an early evening of fascinating presentations, a tour of the building and networking with drinks and canapés.

For further information and to register your place, please click here.

We are all acutely aware of the housing crisis. For many purchasing a home is not an option due to the cost involved whilst rent is becoming increasingly unaffordable. The Home Group have launched a ‘Flexible Rent’ white paper setting out a new model of renting whereby a range of affordable property solutions exist for households on a variety of incomes.

The proposal would result in a collaborative approach from both housing associations and private investors. The schemes would result in a mixture of private renters paying full market rent and some on affordable rents. If rental levels  fall there is the ability to increase the number of units held at market rent, however,  if rent increases this would allow more units to be offered at the affordable rental levels. 

A defined income would be agreed in respect of an entire development (of say around 300 units) instead of in respect of individual units thus allowing fluidity to the composition of affordable and full market rent paying units. There would be further  flexibility arising from the turnover of households across the development which would allow rents to be increased or decreased based on affordability and availability. This is a model of housing which hasn’t been explored by the housing market to date.

This proposal would also allow the integration of mixed communities assisting with the removal of the stereotypical rich and poor areas. Clearly new ways of thinking are required to tackle the affordability crisis and the housing market needs an overhaul to accommodate the variety of households  struggling in the current market. Is this a potential solution?

This year we are hosting a series of events exploring what’s in store for the construction industry.

The future of the construction industry faces many challenges but also presents a world of opportunities.  We will be holding the events in all our offices to offer a forward-looking and interactive discussion around the key changes and possibilities facing the industry, and the implications these are likely to have. From new construction management processes and the potential use of AI in the court system, to green energy and self-sufficiency in new-build projects and the benefits and pitfalls of drones, it promises to be a lively and interesting session with something for everyone.

Click here for further information and to register

The second Placetech Trend Talk took place on 17th July in Amsterdam bringing together property professionals from the UK and across Europe to discuss future trends and the rise of proptech.

The first panel presentations and discussion showcased speakers from Simaxx, Chainels and Coyote Software. All three are using new tech platforms to improve the real estate experience. For Simaxx it is energy efficiency and maintenance, Chainels create a platform for shopping mall operators to better communicate with their tenants resulting in happier tenants, and Coyote provide an online platform for the full life cycle of real estate investment from finding the opportunity to purchase, management and disposal.

For me the key benefit from all of these technologies is communication. When all the parties involved have an easy way to communicate and find information it cuts out unnecessary time and so saves money. It also means relationships with other parties in the transaction are improved which always leads to better outcomes overall.

The second panel featured Liquid Real Estate Innovation, UNSense and Edge Technologies. I thought Linda Chandler, co-founder of Liquid hit the nail on the head with her key theme of ‘not if but when’. She also spoke about the third space between office and home working and readying our cities to be more flexible to meet this demand.

Not smart buildings but cognitive buildings was the key message from UNSense as they incorporate data into their architectural designs to incredible visual effect.

One of the highlights of the event was the presentation from Erik Ubels of Edge Technologies. The Edge building in Amsterdam is featured on Placetech as one of the world’s smartest buildings. It was fascinating hearing how this was achieved and to see the confidence that Edge have in their building – unlike other developers they take a twenty year headlease and let the building themselves rather than walking away on completion.

The discussions on the many themes and topics raised in the event went on long after the presentations themselves had finished. It seems like the traditional world of real estate is really waking up now to the proptech opportunities.

Neuroscience, put simply, is the collective term for the study of the nervous system and, in particular, the brain. Rising to prominence in the 1950s and 60s as a result of the discovery of the first (effective) psychiatric drugs and the establishment of credible links between brain damage and associated symptoms/behaviours, advances in technology have pushed neuroscience further than was initially thought possible.

The concept of applying neuroscience (in all but name) to real estate development is not a new one – urban planners in communist East Germany, for example, are considered to have consciously designed town layouts to give residents a sense of being watched… Contrast this with the ‘Urban Thinkscape’ project in West Philadelphia, U.S.A., with puzzles and games implemented at bus stops in an effort to engage and develop children, ultimately with a view to bridging the gap between children from lower and higher income families.

We all, on a basic level at least, have some experience of this concept. Perhaps when walking into a potential new home and immediately dismissing it, or announcing that it ‘just feels right’.

When leaving a city break with a particular affinity for the area in question, without being able to put a finger on why.

Perhaps when buying the item that you don’t want, from the aisle you never intended to visit, as your local supermarket subtly ferries you through its labyrinthine maze.


Neuroscience can provide explanations to these unexplained behaviours, thereby indicating just how to achieve that certain pushing of our buttons. The modern predilection for open-plan offices, for example, accords with  Harvard’s Edward Wilson’s explanation of humanity’s historic fondness for wide open spaces, providing a clear view of potential threats. Should such threats emerge though (perhaps in the form of a call with a difficult client or an overbearing workload), smaller, protected spaces suddenly become far more comfortable to work in, meaning ‘quiet rooms’ are an essential element of the design.

Colour schemes are relevant (with blue, being the colour of the sky during daylight hours, sending messages to the brain to be alert), as are ceiling heights; Joan Meyers-Levy of the University of Minnesota christened this the ‘Cathedral Effect’ – high ceilings encourage high-level problem solving and discussion, lower ceilings lead to assessment of the finer detail.

Advances in technology have permitted the application of neuroscience to grow further, by way of augmented and virtual reality. Through the use of a virtual reality headset that simultaneously monitors the brainwaves of the user, scientists can obtain a real-time assessment of how an individual is reacting to a proposed development. Araceli Camargo, a cognitive neuroscientist, used London’s Millennium Bridge as an example: the bridge wobbled due to a failure to understand the hypothesised user’s footfall - it was assumed that the average person would simply pass over it, in accordance with its raison d’etre. In reality, many crossers stopped to admire the view and take photographs, leading to pressures upon the structure which were not taken into account during design.

Whether neuroscientists will become as crucial to future developments as architects and builders remains to be seen, but it is clear that scientific study is being taken seriously, with Lendlease and AXA IM among those commissioning reports in recent years. Developers, also, are increasingly recognising the virtues of designing around the eventual occupiers. Speaking after the receipt of Property Week’s inaugural ‘Property Wellbeing’ award, Nick Lee of CEG, developer of the Kirkstall Forge project in Leeds, stated: “Everything from its design and build, to its setting and sustainable travel offer are conceived to make the building’s occupants happier and healthier; which in turn has a positive impact on productivity. This building truly is different by design.”      

The humble office is changing. With property betterment being listed as one of the driving factors behind relocations, the office is becoming an exciting place to work. Occupiers are looking for a variety of factors including future-proofed digital infrastructure, flexible working spaces and inspiring spaces to attract and retain the best staff to name just a few.  

 Digital connectivity is continually advancing and is essential to support the office of the future; the Sogeprom office in Paris is set to be the first office in the world making use of Li-Fi where the internet is supplied by the building’s  lighting . Li-Fi is high speed and bi-directional, increasing connectivity and supporting the digital way of working by tapping into light waves rather than radio waves. Anywhere that can have a bulb will be able to receive Li-Fi unlike traditional Wi-Fi which can have black spots. An advanced level of security is listed as one of the advantages of Li-Fi  (as the light will be contained within solid walls and you must be able to see the light to connect) and it is described as the enabling of the internet of things (100 times more devices).

 The combination of the simple light bulb with the internet to create a whole new strand of digital infrastructure  is not only potentially the next biggest ‘want’ for the office of the future but is also a great example of how businesses are thinking outside the box when it comes to future-proofing industry using infrastructure that is commonly already in place.

The European Commission recently announced that it will be taking the UK government to court over its long standing failure to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-44155590). Similar proceedings will be brought against Germany, France, Italy, Romania and Hungary.

In the UK the announcement follows three sets of successful legal challenges that have been brought by environmental interest group Client Earth against the government. Each challenge has found that the UK government is not doing enough to improve air quality in our towns and cities to comply with EU legislation. 

So what is the government doing?

One step that the government has taken is to require the introduction of clean air zones in 5 cities where air quality is at its lowest by 2020.  The 5 cities are:  Derby, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham.  London already has its own Ultra Low Emission Zone coming into force in 2019 so is effectively exempt from the legislation.

One of the biggest contributors to poor air quality is, of course, the number of vehicles on our roads and in our city and town centres.  A number of the measures being taken therefore seek to dissuade people from using private vehicles in built up areas, encourage use of public transport and encourage the uptake of electric and other low emitting vehicles.

Looking at Birmingham the City Council is still consulting on the extent of the City Centre clean air zone.  This includes whether and what types of vehicles will be charged to enter a designated clean air zone and how charges will be levied.  In the meantime the Council has already taken the following steps to try and improve air quality:


Taxi and private hire vehicle operators will become subject to increasingly stricter emissions standards in order to receive a licence to operate in the city.

In addition 65 of Birmingham's black cabs have been retrofitted with LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) to drastically reduce emissions from these vehicles.

The Council has also been awarded funding from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) to introduce 197 rapid charging points for taxis and private hire vehicles. It is hoped that this will encourage uptake of operators using electric vehicles especially as electric vehicles are likely to be exempt if the City Council does introduce a charging regime to enter the city centre.

For these measures to be successful there needs to be a consistent approach across the wider West Midlands region. Licensing regulation and charging infrastructure has to be implemented by neighbouring councils to Birmingham – the measures will not work if taxis are subject to different licensing restrictions or don’t have the infrastructure available to charge vehicles as soon as they leave the City’s boundaries.


Buses have traditionally been a large contributor to vehicle emissions because of the size of their engines and the start-stop nature of the journeys that they undertake.  They are, however, a form of transport that is ripe for electrification because of the relatively low mileage undertaken on each trip before returning to base. It would be easy to envisage a network of charging infrastructure being introduced at bus depots with buses being recharged in-between trips. 

National Express has already introduced a fleet of low emission buses across Birmingham Across the Midlands, bus operators have signed up to the Bus Alliance, the first of its kind in the country, which will see £150 million invested across the region in state-of-the-art, cleaner buses between now and 2021.


The City Council has an ambitious target of 5% of all trips being undertaken by bike by 2023 with this being doubled to 10% by 2033. To this end the Council is in the process of creating new dedicated cycling lanes along parts of the A38 and A45 - two arterial routes to the city centre which will help encourage cycling.

Much remains to be done, however, to create a coherent, joined up system of cycle lanes that ensures safe travel in and out of the City. As a regular commuter by bike it often feels that I am taking my life into my own hands by cycling to work particularly when compared to what colleagues in Cambridge experience where bikes dominate the roads to a greater degree.


The Council is reviewing and extending parking control in the city to discourage use of private cars in the city centre.

A fine balance needs to be struck here to ensure that people and businesses are not dissuaded from coming to and investing in the city centre. The struggles and pressures that city centre retailers are suffering is well documented.

How will these measures impact development?

Implementation of the clean air zones will disrupt how city and town centres have traditionally been accessed by vehicles.  This is likely to have a profound impact on how our city centres look and feel.  In the long term, town planning and future development of our cities will be influenced as a result, with less development being carried out with the private vehicle in mind.


Our recent blog posts on wellness in the workplace explored how having regard to ‘employee wellness’ not only benefits employees, but also employers, and how some companies are tailoring their office spaces in order to positively contribute to this.

Inspired by this, we informally asked members of our Cambridge office what they would like to see in an office that would improve their wellness. The many and varied suggestions included a gym and classes; a pool table and social space; adaptive lighting; standing-up workspaces; sleep stations; and on-site childcare.

Some of these suggestions, such as adaptive lighting, are already being taken into account by some employers and landlords. For example, circadian lighting modulates the spectral distribution of light sources to positively enhance the body’s function, supporting a healthy physiological system and promoting a strong sleep-wake cycle.

But how realistic is it for landlords and employers to take into account “wellness” demands from their tenants and employees? An office space that incorporated all of the above ideas would certainly make for a varied and interesting place to work, enabling employees to stay fit and healthy during their working hours, and to forge strong relationships with colleagues through the ability to be more sociable. Whilst sleep stations could in fact foster an unhealthy work-life balance, on-site childcare would make many parents’ lives easier.

Whilst some may argue that implementing these suggestions would reduce valuable real estate space, and drive up design prices, with 130 million days of sickness absence in the UK each year, 13.3 million of which are due to stress and anxiety, it certainly gives us a lot to think about.

If you have other ideas about how you would like to see your office space evolve to contribute to your wellness, post them below!

Why are wearable technologies becoming a workplace feature? NHS expert Sir Muir Gray stated that “sitting is the new smoking”; accordingly apps and wearables are starting to help develop our understanding of health and wellbeing in office environments aiming, through techniques such as quantifying sedentariness and stress, to help people become healthier, and in turn happier, more creative and productive.

Examples include the Waterminder app, which records a user’s water consumption, sending smartphone reminders to hydrate. Apple Watch monitors the number of hours standing, calories burned, and amount of activity. Vigo monitors alertness by tracking blinking and movement, sending vibrations, an LED light or playing a user’s favourite song when it senses that the user is drowsy.

Whilst wearable technology in the workplace can be beneficial, when does assisting become monitoring? Humanyze is an app that analyses data collected from badges worn by employees to investigate teamwork, engagement, and space planning. BP recently provided employees with free wearables and offered a lower insurance premium to those who reach goals. Appirio negotiated a lower health insurance rate based on data collected from Fitbits worn by employees.

Undeniably, wearables offer the potential to encourage positive change and healthy habits, but there is concern. They could also be a source of “technostress”, caused by a lack of understanding of the tech environment. Corporate “ fitness challenges” may only become an opportunity for the fittest to demonstrate how fit they are (research shows that people in higher risk categories are generally aware and concerned about their own risks, but unconfident to change). There is also the question as to whether or not employees are happy to have their data monitored by their employer, in return for free wearables or enhanced working environments.

Do you think employers should be able to monitor employees’ data from wearable technologies?

As 3D printing transitions from the realms of science fiction to everyday life, consider what your first project might be.


A key for the mysterious drawer which has never before been opened?


An action figure moulded in your image?


How about a three storey, 5000 sq ft, six bedroomed house with a secret staircase, gym, pool and hot tub in the basement?


A couple in Highgate, North London decided on the latter option, demolishing their existing property and making use of the innovative technology to leave them with a home reportedly worth five times that of their previous abode. It should be noted that this was not 3D printed in the truest sense (here, the printers merely ‘sculpted’ old fashioned wood, creating a number of labelled sections to later be slotted together like pieces of Lego), but San Francisco based start-up, Apis Cor, are one of several companies producing the real deal. A YouTube video posted by the company last year, purporting to show the world’s first printed home, has garnered over 3 million views and numerous enquiries as to how orders can be placed. Whilst absent of the luxuries enjoyed by the Highgate property, the figures are undoubtedly impressive – a house constructed in 24 hours with an apparent lifespan of up to 175 years, at a cost of approximately £10,000.  


Brands like Huf Haus have bordered on being household names for years, but their impact on the market as a whole has been minor. Never before though, has a solution to Britain’s housing crisis seemed so achievable. A future in which giant, property-printing machines loom over the skyline, each a disconcerting cross of The Terminator and Sarah Beeny, is some way off, thanks, in part, to the current failure by many codes and standards bodies to recognise 3D printing as a legitimate construction method. Should companies like Apis Cor eventually become part of everyday life however, the impact on the market would be fascinating. Common sense suggests that this would be good news for those unable to otherwise step onto the property ladder and for those house builders willing to embrace the technology, but would existing homeowners (and particularly landlords) suffer from falling prices/rents/demand as a consequence?


Prohibitive cost and the relative youth of the technology currently limit production aspirations for most to small houses, but the scope for expansion is clearly there. How long before schools, hospitals, even space shuttles are printed?


Posted by Beverley Firth Mar 14, 2018

The recent publication by MHCLG of the draft NPPF with the associated viability PPG is creating a good deal of discussion. It is far from clear how practical it will be to deal adequately with viability at the plan making stage, and it is to be hoped that the changes proposed to how viability is assessed will not have the effect of slowing down development. We'd be interested in hearing from readers what their views are 

Influencing the health of employees is rapidly becoming a primary focus of many companies when designing their workplaces, and also when refurbishing. Following years of research and input from the medical, scientific and real estate communities, WELL certification from the International WELL Building Institute is aimed at advancing “buildings that help people work, live, perform and feel their best”.

The introduction of new standards from the International WELL Building Institute regarding air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind, are aimed at greater productivity and job satisfaction. As well as increasing awareness of employee wellness, and avoiding ailments such as back pain and stress disorders, businesses looking to attract and retain good talent are viewing their workplaces as physical spaces that can differentiate from other employers.

The provision of natural light and air filtration systems, encouraging fitness and having better water quality, are just some of the ways in which improvements can be made. Whilst firms who invest in space at early stages such as design and construction have the benefit of a “blank canvas” on which they can tailor the space to their employees’ needs, existing premises can also have positive modifications made.

Some firms who have made imaginative changes to their office spaces include Barclays, which offers spinning classes at many of its offices in soundproofed pods situated within the main office space; Unilever who have areas such as their “Connection Bridge” where employees can get comfortable and have conversations; Google, which at its Silicon Valley office has “nap pods” in the middle of the workplace, designed to put employees to sleep with soothing noises; and Rodale Inc., (which publishes Women’s Health and Men’s Health), has an outdoor trail for runs, and an outdoor gardening area for those interested in growing fresh vegetables.

The recent announcement by the University of London that it will soon offer an undergraduate degree course taught completely online for £5,650 per year over three years has reignited the debate about whether the advancement of technology bringing remote learning is replacing the need for place-based education and living at universities’ faculties and accommodation.

When considering this it’s important to remember that the University of London’s offering, although innovative and headline grabbing, isn’t totally new: the University itself claims to be the first university in the world to have offered distance learning via correspondence courses in the 1850s. There is also the Open University which has offered online degrees since the 1960s and, more recently, the global growth of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

There are, however, certain trends – a fall in the number of domestic students applying to university (partly due to demographic challenges shrinking the pool of potential students and partly due to an increase in tuition fees in England); concerns over the high cost of university amongst those who do attend; an increase in a different type of student, perhaps older and in work; a government review of tuition fees with a focus on cheaper, quicker and more flexible ways to study for a degree and public funding pressures facing universities’ estates departments – which may all mean that the ‘traditional’ university campus with (undergraduate) students studying for a minimum of three years and living on site is under threat.

Although this new type of technology-based learning is changing the way of obtaining a degree, the university estate clearly still has a role – and with capital expenditure by universities in their land and buildings topping £3billion - institutions clearly think so too.

Universities’ estates will continue to play a crucial role in attracting the best staff, students and partners by being a key factor as to why these stakeholders choose one institution over another. Such facilities are then a major part of the ‘student experience’ and of research programmes once learners arrive at university. The role of technology in higher education is therefore one of evolution rather than revolution. The growth of full online degrees and other ways of teaching and learning remotely will increase. This is clearly a disruptor by providing the opportunity to do things differently – particularly appealing to non-traditional learners like mature students and those in work. But to say it marks the beginning of the end of the university estate and place-based higher education is an exaggeration.

Mills & Reeve is the legal partner to PlaceTech, a media platform to bridge the gap between tech and property. 

PlaceTech will provide tangible examples of technology in application, explaining how it works and relaying the benefits. PlaceTech will champion innovation and encourage collaboration to drive adoption and create a more productive, better connected property technology movement. 

Access PlaceTech here.


“Real estate might be the industry that is most transformed by autonomous vehicles,” said David Silver. Read the full article from Bloomberg Technology here.  

Across the UK, developers are increasingly investing in co-living spaces. Typically, tenants will rent a bedroom or studio which includes access to shared amenities, ranging from essential facilities such as kitchens and laundry rooms, to libraries, cinemas, and even luxury spas.

Co-living is driven by the desire to foster a sense of community and increase interactions between residents. Whilst it might remind some of unglamorous shared student digs, today’s offerings are increasingly luxurious and offer some unique benefits, as explored below.


With one in eight Britons regularly working over 50 hours per week, pooled services provide an attractive solution for time-poor professionals. Unlike most apartment blocks, which recover communal costs via a service charge, facilities such as room cleaning, gym membership and concierge services are instantly accessible and conveniently consolidated into a monthly rental bill.


In a recent survey, 60% of Britons admitted to not knowing their neighbours ‘well’ or ‘at all’. Co-living counteracts this trend, with developments offering shared spaces specifically designed to bring people together. Communities typically include spaces to relax and work, restaurants, bars, gardens and roof terraces. In addition, many co-living developments organise events such as lectures, barbeques and networking.


For those desiring greater face-to-face interaction in the age of social media, the benefits of communal living are profound. Research indicates that a lack of social connections has a crippling effect on the average lifespan, increasing the likelihood of early mortality by 26% (equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day) whilst being more harmful than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.

Professional management

On a practical note, tenants should expect a greater level of professionalism than that offered by typical buy-to-let landlords. Maintenance and other services should be more readily accessible and responsive.

It seems, therefore, that the benefits to co-living could be remarkable. However, it remains to be seen whether the longstanding ambition of many Brits towards home ownership will limit the impact that co-living schemes could have within the wider property market. 

According to a recent survey published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the average first time buyer in the UK is now aged 32.  First time buyers in the 35-44 age category have grown by over ten percent in the last twenty years. They are also increasingly likely to live in rented accommodation before getting a foot on the property ladder, with 66% of people now renting before buying their first property compared with only 39% twenty years ago.

As a result, the private rented sector is comprised of an increasing number of people in their late 20s and 30s, as well as families, with different requirements to previous generations of renters.

 An initial point is that this demographic may look for greater permanency from their rental homes before they are able to purchase their own property. Increased security and the opportunity to settle into their local area could be important considerations, particularly for those with dependent children.

This provides an opportunity for landlords willing to grant longer tenancies of around, for example, 3-5 years (as opposed to standard shorthold tenancy terms of between 6 months to a year).  Landlords could benefit from security of future occupancy and income streams. Tenants should be mindful, however, that landlords might also seek to increase the rent over time in line with open market valuations.

As well as a potentially greater number of buy-to-let landlords offering longer tenancies, professionally managed “build to rent” developments are particularly well placed to meet this need.

There might also be bolder alternative options for developers to meet an increased demand for more stable tenure. For example, purpose-built co-living spaces, in which facilities such as kitchens, gardens and gyms are pooled communally, are set to radically alter the makeup of the private rental sector.

The 13th Programme of Law Reform was launched in December 2017 and the report includes a section on automated vehicles. The full report can be accessed here. The expected start date for the review is February 2018 and it is expected to last 3 years.

The Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) has asked the Law Commission to undertake a review to deliver reforms promoting the development and use of automated vehicles, and their application as part of public transport networks and on-demand passenger services by 2021.

Automated vehicles do not readily fit within existing legal frameworks, so the review will identify pressing problems in the law that may be barriers to the use of automated vehicles, as well as considering broader, longer term reforms. The Law Commission will also explore how automated vehicles could fit within existing regulation of public transport frameworks, and provision of innovative on-demand passenger transport.

The review will build on previous work from the Department for Transport, CCAV’s Code of practice for testing of automated vehicle technologies, and the insurance reforms contained in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill. The Law Commission’s work will aim to promote public confidence in the safe use of automated vehicles. This project will also feed in to the recently announced regulatory review as part of the ‘Future of Mobility’ Grand Challenge.  

Who doesn’t like pie? Sorry wrong type of pie, I mean  or PI or the Physical Internet.

If you’re asking “what?” then you’re probably not alone.  The idea behind the Physical Internet is about applying the way the digital internet works to the real world. Most notably in logistics.

This is not just about using technology to improve logistics but about taking the way in which the internet allows you to send an e-mail with all your holiday snaps to your mother and applying it to how you get your new phone delivered.

How does the internet transfer information such as a holiday snap? First it takes the item you are sending and breaks it down into packets of data. Each packet is limited to a small manageable size. So your picture might be broken down into 2,000 packets. Each packet has a wrapper that states (using a common language) what kind of data is contained within the packet and how to put it back together with the other packets to make the picture again. All the packets are then sent over the internet to their destination and reassembled.

Now the clever bit is that the packets don’t all travel down the same route. They can take any number of different paths to their destination and once all there they get unpacked and put back together. This creates speed in the process.

If you can apply these concepts to logistics – standard sized and shaped containers, common communication systems and multiple routes connected to hubs – then conceivably you can revolutionise the logistics world.

What might this mean for the property world? Well here are a few thoughts to start with:

  1. Will there be more but smaller logistics hubs?
  2. Will there be less but bigger logistics super-hubs?
  3. If better shared hubs with multiple users and operators working together are needed how will these work physically and legally?
  4. Can logistics hubs be better utilised and placed in a mixed use environment?
  5. If there are less hubs what can existing sites be used for?

How will autonomous vehicles be a reality in a few years?

Beverley Firth, Head of Real Estate looks at how town planners will have to adjust in the recent Minutehack article. Click here to read.   

Bringing Flexi back

Posted by Greg Fearn Nov 15, 2017

The Taylor Report has concluded that almost 26.2% of the employed workforce is in part-time work and the majority of them are not seeking full-time employment. With more and more workers working non-standard hours, how is this likely to affect the office environment?  

Whilst full-time, permanent work as an employee continues to make up the majority of employment in the UK at 63%, there has been a notable shift towards more flexible forms of working.

Currently, almost 26.2% of employment is in part-time work, compared to 25% in 1997 and although a small number of part-time workers say that they are working part-time because they could not find a full-time job, 70.7% say that they do not want a full-time job. This increased demand for part time work means that working space for staff has become less rigid with rising numbers of employees ‘hot desking’ on their days in the office rather than taking up a fixed space.

The rise in flexible working practices over the last 10 years has helped to fuel the growth in part-time work with 92% of employers saying that they have at least one form of flexible working practice available in their workplace and 60% of employees saying that they have done some form of flexible working in the last 12 months. 

The growth in flexible working was highlighted as one of the major changes in employment in recent decades and encouraged the government to consider how it can further promote genuine flexibility in the workplace when it conducts a statutory evaluation of the Right to Request Flexible Working in 2019. It also suggested that the Government work closely with organisations like Timewise and Working Families to encourage a wider range of employers to adopt flexible working and initiatives like “happy to talk flexible working”.

This increasingly mobile workforce means that office spaces will need to become less formal and more fluid in their construction to allow companies to accommodate fluctuating numbers of employees. Companies are unlikely to want to have a desk for each staff member as they know that these will not always be full, but they will need enough space to make sure every employee has somewhere to work. Furthermore, developers will need to incorporate discreet and spacious storage spaces to allow employees to store their work away neatly until the next time they are in the office.

Many developers have already started to incorporate these elements into new developments but what about their existing developments which may not allow for these to be incorporated so easily? Are the costs of creating premises of this nature worthwhile for a landlord or a tenant?

A 2016 report from Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, commissioned by the Department of Health, sought to understand whether workplace health programmes are effective for improving health and business outcomes, and to identify characteristics that influence their success. The report concluded that there are benefits, for the business and employees’ health, from establishing workplace health programmes.

In light of this report and the increased concern mental and physical well-being of the population the Taylor Report has called for a more proactive approach to workplace health for the benefit for firms, workers and the public interest.

This suggestion is likely to be something that the government supports due to the increased pressure on NHS budgets caused by inflation and an ageing population and will put pressure on companies to incorporate schemes designed to offer support and incentives aimed at reducing health and risks such as smoking, obesity and stress. Many companies have already taken steps to incorporate workplace health schemes including Lendlease which has a mental health first aider in every project and office.

However, if companies are under increasing pressure to incorporate corporate wellness programmes then landlords and developers will need to make sure that their properties are developed to allow companies to facilitate them. Developers will need to consult with their prospective tenants to ensure that their developments allow for open spaces, quiet rooms, gyms or even consultation rooms depending upon the companies wellness plan.

With a population that is likely to be working longer than ever, creating healthy work spaces will be key to ensuring that people can continue in work. Are developers and landlords likely to incorporate a tenant’s devised wellness plan or will tenants expect developers to create and incorporate a wellness plan into the development themselves for the benefit of the tenant?

In our continual search for happiness, we are now likely to spend more on experiences, events and nights out, rather than on material objects. How will this shift affect landlords and developers?

The experience economy has grown dramatically in the last decade as people have reached “peak stuff”. This is particularly the case amongst millennials, with research showing that 78% would rather pay for an experience than goods, compared with 59% for baby boomers.

Spending is up in pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas whilst, department stores have suffered a drop in spending. Next blamed the clothing chain’s first fall in profits for eight years on the move from buying things to doing things. Multi-use “destination” developments are the future.

Landlords should consider how this shift in spending will affect their new developments:

  1. Developments will have to attract ‘experience economy’ tenants such as restaurants, cinemas and bars – retailers will be keen to ensure these sorts of tenants are incorporated into the development so that they can capture passing trade and developers may need to sacrifice the number of tenants which they can incorporate in order to maximise the floor space available for entertainment venues; and
  2. Experience economy tenants will be in a stronger bargaining position – the increased demand for their presence by landlords and retailers alike will mean that developers and landlords may need to offer longer rent free periods or increased incentives to secure them.

With expendable incomes being squeezed, the way in which people spend their money will become increasingly important to companies’ survival and to landlords’ rental incomes. However, companies who form part of the experience economy will need to be sensible with their decisions and not attempt to grow too quickly as their demand increases.

Universities are constantly competing to attract the best candidates. Increasing tuition costs and a desire to balance a career with further education has led to greater demand for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS), which offer a cheaper and more flexible studying alternative. Universities worldwide have partnered with online networks to deliver MOOCs but will this mean the end of traditional campus-based learning?

Free and delivered online, MOOCs allow a large numbers of students, anywhere in the world, to be reached by a single course. Whilst most MOOCs do not lead to any formal qualification, some universities now count credits earned from completing MOOCs towards a full degree (to be completed on campus).

As having more students on campus necessitates more facilities and tutors, with inevitable limitations on teaching space and exam-marking lists and a high marginal cost of production, embracing MOOCs for both undergraduate and postgraduate study could increase universities’ profitability. Although the initial fixed cost of MOOCs is relatively high (including time needed to create the materials and the software required to upload and maintain the online content), MOOCs have a low marginal cost, with little financial difference between teaching 100 students or 1,000.

Warwick Business School has particularly embraced the online market, building 2 film studios on campus to create online content to be disseminated to the more than 1,200 students on its online MBA, showing an innovative use of campus space to reach more students than could be physically accommodated on site.

However, whilst this ‘try before you buy’ approach will forge initial links, to encourage students to go on to study the full degree universities must continue investing in their campuses to create a unique selling point and, so far, universities have shown no sign of slowing down campus investment. Life on campus is an important part of the student experience and MOOCs are unlikely to negate the need for campus universities, particularly for undergraduates. The reduction in funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England means the pressure to attract students (particularly international) has grown and, in such a competitive market, an attractive and well-facilitated campus can make all the difference.

The gig economy has become an integral part of modern life, with the services offered indispensable. But how does this affect the real estate sector? Without doubt it will change the way that developers seek to utilise the limited space available to them.

Space is always at a premium, particularly in our city centres. This has led to tough choices for developers with limited space available, such as choosing between maximising the size of a development against providing enough parking spaces for the tenants. However, the gig economy may mean that developers can have the best of both worlds.

Residential developer Moda Living recently announced a prop-tech partnership with Uber which will see residents of Moda’s new developments offered up to £100 worth of Uber credits per month in return for them agreeing to give up their car parking space. The innovative scheme will allow Moda to use the newly found space for other amenities, such as a pool, gym or restaurant.

Taking advantage of the gig economy in this way will enable developers to provide greater facilities to their tenants, and potentially increase the rental value of a development. Developers may take this further and utilise the service provided by food delivery companies such as UberEats or Deliveroo.

Offering Uber-style services and incorporating credits for food delivery services could be an extra incentive to attract tenants. The additional floor space freed up by offering such services could enable developers to incorporate more open plan and collaborative spaces, which are becoming increasingly popular.

Moda’s scheme may not be popular with everyone but, with cars sitting unused 95% of the time, it shows that this space can be utilised in a more exciting and potentially more profitable way. As more disruptors enter the market, partnerships such as these should be explored to enable developers to maximise both rental and capital potential.

As a form of peer-to-peer lending, crowdfunding brings together those with funds to invest with those seeking finance for a commercial venture using an online platform.

There are a number of ways in which crowdfunding is utilised for the property investment market, including opportunities for:

  • investors to access the buy-to-let market by buying shares in an individual rental property, rather than purchasing one outright;
  • developers to seek funding for the construction of new property – operating essentially as a means of peer-to-peer bridging finance; and
  • investors to buy shares in a portfolio of properties, allowing them to spread investment risk.

But how does it impact on the property investment market? There is no doubt that property crowdfunding has increased accessibility to the property investment market for anyone who wishes to invest – without having to invest vast amounts or get involved with the actual purchase or day to day management of the property. It has also increased the access to capital for developers and fund managers. Put simply, there is a larger pool of potential investors and capital available. There is no longer an absolute need for a broker, a bank and/or a source of wealthy individuals or institutions to finance projects.  

But what are the drawbacks for this burgeoning form of peer-to-peer lending and how can they be overcome?

There are many ways that remotely controlling your home can improve your life and these include:

  • Security – automated door locks and lighting, or cameras dotted around the home whose pictures you can view in real time on your hand held device. These are just some of the ways that home automation can increase the security of your home.
  • Energy efficiency – being able to remotely control your appliances and home heating together with sophisticated software that monitors their use means that greater control of your home’s energy efficiency can be achieved.
  • Savings – when your home systems and appliances are used only when needed you will see  reduction in your utility bills.
  • Convenience – being able to control your home systems and appliances without actually having to be there – convenient control of your home is at your fingertips!
  • Comfort – ensuring your home is at a comfortable 22 degrees when you set foot through the door and that you bath maintains a temperature to suit you.
  • Peace of mind – no more worrying whether you have left a window open or an iron on after you’ve left home for the weekend.

The list above provides a snap shot of some of the benefits we can experience today, but how will home automation evolve and be part of our lives in the next ten years?

It is a generally accepted fact that online shopping is killing the high street. In the first six months of 2016 over 2,500 high street shops closed. In contrast, online sales in December 2016 rose by 21.3%.  It seems that Britain’s shoppers cannot resist the ease, convenience and speed of e-commerce. And when online providers can offer next day or even same day delivery, the lure is obvious. In fact, the prognosis  from ParcelHero is that the death of the high street is just over a decade away.

 Of course, retailers can try to fight back and many have, going on the defensive by launching their online stores with online discounts and reward schemes.

 However, is there a potential for the high street to go on the offensive? Could the high street utilise technology to offer shoppers something that online retailers cannot by combining visual technology, social media and digital engineering to create not just a shopping opportunity, but a shopping “experience”.

 The move towards technology on the high street has already begun, with big name brands testing the waters. Ted Baker’s spring/summer 2017 campaign used live video streaming within its stores to create an interactive and unique shopping experience, using technology to engage directly with shoppers.  Accessorizes’ new store at Westfield London uses LED panels featuring immersive content to connect with shoppers and offer them a personalised experience, ranging from choosing the stores playlist to curating their own individual Trend Edits on a bespoke iPad.

While the high street may never be able to beat the online world for convenience and ease, it is clear that with teamed with the right technology it can, and is, starting to engage with a new generation of shoppers to make shopping itself an experience and not just a means to an ends.


have  just booked a tour of our famous Manchester Town Hall. If you would like a preview of what I shall see, here is a link  to a virtual tour

I want to pay homage to this magnificent building before it closes its doors for 7 years to undergo a £330million refurbishment. This ambitious plan is a brilliant example of the Circular Economy in action.

With growing populations and declining supplies of easily extracted resources the old model of “ take-make-dispose” is no longer viable. This project will embrace many of the tenets of Circular Economy in that it will give the building a second life, it will create an energy efficient environment and explore a mixture of future public and commercial uses. I have every confidence of a successful outcome having witnessed the spectacular refurbishment of Manchester’s Central Library. One of their outputs was to increase the area open to the public from 30% to 70%.

Not only does this project tick all the boxes for sustainability it preserves and enhances  a landmark that characterises fierce civic pride and confidence in our city’s future.


Great to see Secretary of State Chris Grayling declaring support for AV in his speech the other evening. If his prediction is correct and AVs are on our roads by 2021, our exciting disruptors launch event this evening (starting a conversation about the impact AVs will have on our approach to developing at scale) is well timed! See you there



An emerging trend in UK housing is co-living or co-housing. This is defined by the presence of communal spaces, going above and beyond familiar communal grounds to include shared facilities designed to pool resources and encourage interaction with other residents. This won’t suit everyone, but some of the motivation behind such developments is a reaction to a sense of isolation in modern life and to fulfil a human need for community. Sharing facilities can also be more sustainable. Perhaps this isn’t new, but don’t think “commune”: these are modern homes being sought by a wider range of people.

See our other articles on the hub for our thoughts on two very different types of co-living development: a build to rent scheme aimed at young professionals and a housing estate offering family houses.

As build to rent is being positively encouraged, we expect to see more developments aimed at young professionals. Owner-occupied co-housing is small in scale but on the rise and it will be interesting to see how the value and marketability of such properties compares with ordinary homes.

The K1 housing development began construction in June 2017 and will be Cambridge’s first co-housing project. It will have 42 properties ranging from one bedroom apartments to four bedroom houses. Central to the scheme is a “common house” with a large kitchen, where residents can share regular meals and have social events, a laundry, and three guest bedrooms to reduce the need for spare bedrooms in individual properties. Outside, there will be a traffic-free “street”, gardens and a shared workshop and tool store. Car parking will be kept to the fringe of the scheme so that it doesn’t dominate the setting.

Prospective residents have engaged UK developer TOWN to purchase the site and build out the development in collaboration with Swedish house builder Trivselhus. On completion, they will buy their homes at average market prices (but including a share of the cost of construction of the common house) and the common parts will be transferred to a company owned by the residents. Will the longing for a sense of community encourage people to share common facilities? Will sharing facilities work well?

The Collective at Old Oak Common in west London, was completed in 2016. This co-living scheme sits firmly in the expanding “build to rent” sector and is aimed at young professionals. Funded by a private overseas investor, the building contains 535 units, ranging from just an en-suite bedroom to small two-bedroom studios, all of which are available to rent on 12-month tenancies. Tenants’ individual space is very small but the all-inclusive rent includes a cleaning service and linen change and the use of not just shared kitchens and laundry but also high-spec facilities such as a 24/7 concierge, gym, spa, restaurant, cinema and library. The operators run a daily programme of events from lectures to gym classes. The intention is to appeal to young professionals seeking opportunities to meet others and to benefit from the service of a professional landlord, rather than the sometimes negative experience of dealing with buy-to-let landlords. A further 250-room 19-storey development is now planned in Stratford. Will young professionals be happy to continue the student lifestyle of communal living if it means much higher spec facilities than they would ordinarily get through a “standard” private rental?

As a mid-twenty something year old, being a ‘homeowner’ is a pipedream when you are living from paycheck to paycheck. I don’t want to rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad and I want my first home to be half decent. So is the Rent to Buy (“RTB”) scheme the solution to my ‘rent trap’ problem?

The RTB scheme is a government homeownership initiative for first time buyers to get on the property ladder. It is designed to ease the transition from renting to buying by providing subsidised rent (usually at around 20% less than market rent) for a number of years (ranging from 6 months to 5 years) so to allow the ‘homeowner’ to save for the deposit. After the contracted time period ends, you then have the option of either buying the property outright or entering a part-rent part-buy shared ownership scheme. If you choose not to purchase the property however, or cannot afford to, then you must move out after your contracted term.

To be eligible there are certain criteria to fulfil and priority is given to certain groups of people. The dilemma is if your contracted term is a short one (e.g. 6 months), you need to be fairly confident that you can save enough in that timeframe to buy the property at the end of the lease. Alternatively, if you go for a long lease (e.g. 5 years) you may have more time to save properly, but there is also the risk of house prices escalating to the point where you can no longer afford your property.

In light of all that, my pipedream may remain just that after all.

The advent of electric cars is expected to place more demand on the national grid than ever before, especially following the announcement of Government plans to ban the sale of new fuel-powered cars by 2040. Research by Cambridge Econometrics (https://www.camecon.com/news/2040vehicleban/) estimates that this policy would increase electricity demand by 10% by 2040.

One potential solution to the challenge presented by an increase in electricity demand is battery technology which allows buildings to store power which it has generated through renewable sources. Usually, electricity generated by renewable sources is fed back into the grid. However, companies such as Tesla are making electricity storage more cost and space efficient and, therefore, attractive to commercial consumers.  

What opportunities could this technology present to a creative commercial landlord? It should at least mean that electricity supplies are cheaper, as stored electricity can be used during peak times, meaning that the landlord can tempt tenants with cheaper service charges. Having a guaranteed power back-up in a power outage would also be a major selling point to most businesses. But, by thinking more ambitiously, could landlords create a whole new revenue stream for themselves? The installation of car-charging units at a property is just one way landlords could monetise the energy stored by their building. Can you think of any others?

It goes without saying that not all courses can be taught remotely but, with changing technology, a lot can.  What does this mean for the future of the university estate?

The trend in university estates reflects what we have seen in offices – less traditional desk/lecture theatre based space and a greater focus on collaborative working and mobile self-learning.  This ultimately means existing space will become redundant and universities must ensure that the space they keep is flexible and can adapt to changing needs.  

There are also real benefits in new thinking about location – for example the University of Salford has a campus located within Mediacity where students can benefit from being in the same place as 700 media, creative and digital professionals.

Financial constraints, as well as tech advances,  are forcing universities to be innovative with their estates strategy. This includes innovative ways to fund new buildings such as a public bond issue  and complex new structures for disposals to maximise capital receipts or ensure an ongoing income stream from underutilised assets.

Drone technology has advanced quickly in recent years and has become more user-friendly and accessible.  This coupled with the trend of agriculture becoming increasingly data-driven has meant that agriculture is seen to be one of the major industries incorporating agricultural drones in the short term future.

Whilst social media during the 2017 harvest has seen more farmers putting a drone up to take great time-lapse aerial footage of the countryside, back in the farm office the data captured from drones is being increasingly used for operational planning, analysis and precision agriculture.

Agricultural drones broadly provide three types of detailed views:

1.  Soil and crop monitoring – seeing a crop from the air can reveal patterns, allowing better monitoring of soil health, irrigation, targeted spraying and even pest problems which may not be so apparent at ground level.

2.  Mapping and surveying – drone images can capture aerial images, infra-red, heat maps etc. highlighting differences between crops in the same field or in a specific area which is difficult to appreciate whilst walking around it.

3.  Efficiencies – drones can survey a crop efficiently which encourages more regular monitoring – week, daily or even hourly!  Combining the images can easily show changes in the crop, helping better crop management and revealing any problem spots which could be looked at in further detail to maximise productivity.

The amount of data capable of being recorded whilst tractors autonomously drill fields, or when GPS-guided combines harvest crops is astonishing.  Having the ability to use data collected from the ground together with the drone footage from the air, sees drones becoming a valued operational tool with exciting future potential.

Electric cars and residential developments

Posted by James Field (No Access, has been declined) Nov 3, 2017

With a 60% leap in global sales in 2016 alone, and increasingly affordable models in production, the electric
car market is fast moving into the mainstream. As ownership of these cars becomes more widespread, what effect will they have on the future of residential developments? Over the years we have seen residential developments adapt to accommodate new lifestyle choices among homeowners and tenants. We are likely to see the same with the advent of electric cars. 

To date the spread of electric cars has been hampered in part by a lack of infrastructure enabling their owners to charge them. However, with the UK and other countries planning to ban the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by 2040, this represents an ever more pressing problem that must be resolved.

So where could these charging points be placed for car owners of the future? Certainly at ‘refuelling’ stations and near other convenience and service locations such as restaurants and hotels – as Tesla is now actively seeking to provide. Yet the most convenient location for charging facilities is the car owner’s home. 

This is acknowledged at EU level, where new legislation is set to encourage incorporating such facilities into new residential developments by 2025. As member states increasingly attempt to reduce carbon emissions, the facilities would become mandatory if more than ten parking spaces are to be included in a new residential development.

The requirement to include charging points will have a major impact on residential developments and will represent an added consideration for developers to take into account, but in a world where traditional cars are no longer on sale the added value of such properties to prospective buyers and tenants is plain to see. There are also suggestions the cars may be able to put energy back into the national grid, which could lead to homeowners claiming payments back from energy suppliers by way of feed-in-tariffs, as currently seen with owners of solar panels and wind turbines.

It is clear that European (and indeed global) automobile markets are moving towards favouring electric cars over traditional petrol and diesel models. These advances cannot be viewed in isolation. Electric vehicles require charging infrastructure that can be best delivered directly at the car owner’s home. This must be considered by those working on residential developments, if they are to remain attractive to prospective buyers and tenants.

Have you ever passed a red telephone box and considered nipping in to rehearse a pitch or even print off the documents you forgot to pick up from the office?  Probably not because that would be ridiculous – wouldn’t it?  Well not any more, thanks to Bar Works (a New York based co-working company), who is transforming abandoned telephone boxes into private office pods which are available to book 24/7 via a smartphone app.

This may seem the polar opposite of collaborative co-working space, but it symbolises an undeniable change in working behaviour and the rapidly growing demand for flexible, affordable workspace.  Joint research by the Business Centre Association and CBRE shows the flexible workspace sector is worth around £3.3 billion (turnover).  With over 93,000 UK businesses occupying flexible workspace (74% of these having 5 employees or fewer), the market has experienced a recent surge in popularity.

The current stalwarts of co-working spaces are technology businesses, along with start-ups and freelancers looking to keep their overheads low whilst also facilitating creativity, cross-sector collaboration and social interaction during their challenging early days.

Some landlords continue to favour traditional leasehold tenants, amid fears that the co-workspace market is too much of a speculative economy – spaces based on start-up occupancy risk being affected by the occupier struggling to make enough of an impact in the crowded market to survive.

There is also the impact of expectations – collaborative workspaces often include added extras, such as complimentary yoga sessions and games rooms.  If these perks come to be expected in such spaces, landowners may feel obliged to re-invest larger proportions of their turnover to continue attracting an already fluid clientele.  British Land hopes to distinguish itself from the competition by launching its new project, ‘Storey’: which provides flexible office space for small companies who have outgrown co-working space but still seek a broader campus environment for growth and productivity.  The changing face of businesses is clearly revolutionising the behaviour of landlords.

Co-working spaces are increasingly seen as a long-term option, with 39% of businesses staying put for more than 3 years.  Will workspaces continue to blur the lines between work and play, so that rather than ‘working from home’, people begin to live in their workspace community during temporary projects? Or could collaborative workspaces revitalise the traditional high street, by providing ‘local hubs’ where workers communicate with their colleagues electronically whilst sitting alongside their neighbours?  The way this sector is growing means that we may soon find out.

The Work Foundation estimates that by 2020 flexi-working will be the main working style for 70% of companies, but despite technological advances giving us more control over working hours and locations, this prediction seems pretty ambitious. 33% of the UK workforce works remotely some or all of the time and some major hurdles stand in the way of increasing that figure.

At Mills & Reeve’s recent employment law seminars, HR professionals identified flexi-working as the key opportunity for employers over the next year.  Sectors comfortable with electronic working, along with small businesses and start-ups looking to avoid significant rent costs, have already embraced the opportunities.  Other organisations (including Mills & Reeve) have embraced hot-desking as a move towards more flexi-working.  These shifts may cause companies to look differently at ‘value for money’ and consider smaller workspaces in more prestigious locations.

However, despite numerous benefits to flexi-working (increased employee satisfaction, productivity and lower absence rates for a start), there are still barriers to implementation:

  1. Attitudes – Historically, a reputation for long (perhaps unsociable) working hours signalled dedication and ambition, whilst flexi-working was a demand reserved for parents or carers.  Technological developments and economic downturns are starting to refocus minds towards efficiency and productivity rather than longer hours, but there is still some way to go.

  2. Technology Infrastructure – Employers need to invest heavily and rapidly in their virtual working capabilities; the government also needs to honour promises to establish reliable superfast broadband, particularly in rural areas where companies continue to battle with irregular internet connections and speeds.

  3. Work spaces – The trend for flexi-working may influence demands for housing and infrastructure investment nationally, as people start to require living and remote working space under one roof. However, the disparity between house prices and wages means that many juniors live in cheaper multiple occupancy residences, designed for living, not working.  This may then increase demand for local communal flexi-working spaces.

  4. Company policies – The workforce is becoming increasingly ‘millennial’, with a generation of employees that grew up with technology’s gift of flexibility and expect it to feature in their everyday lives.  Organisations need to not only establish a unified flexi-working policy, but also ensure that it is openly encouraged and practised by all levels of seniority.

By 2020 we may see well over 70% of organisations offering a greater range of optionsgiving employees control over their working location or hours – however, it could still be a while before the UK workforce can adopt flexi-working as its main working style.

The days of businesses and other organisations committing to long-term leases are diminishing. We look at what is changing and how this impacts on commercial real estate.

What’s changing?

Real estate (rent, rates, repairs, insurance, possible service charge etc) is often one of the biggest costs for businesses.  Reducing these costs by using space more flexibly is rising towards the top of a lot of businesses’ agendas. 

Co-working spaces involving people from several organisations where businesses have signed up to short-term, flexible leases, often in pop-up office locations, are increasing in popularity.  Increasingly, businesses do not want to commit to long-term leases when the overall pace of doing business is increasing.  When this is combined with rapid technological growth, changing demographics, current economic uncertainty (including the impact of the “B” word – Brexit) and a growing trend towards collaborative, shared working environments; organisations increasingly want their real estate to be aligned with their business ie, to have an ability to shrink, expand and flex their property needs as their business shrinks, expands and adapts.  Being tied into long term, inflexible leases that limit organisations’ ability to quickly respond to market demand is becoming less desirable.  This is particularly the case for small businesses and SMEs who do not want to commit to long-term leases but who instead want to align their real estate needs with their growth.  The increase in the number of small businesses (431,000 new businesses between 2010 and 2016 (a 17% increase)) is another reason why the demand for things such as serviced offices and shorter leases is increasing.  Interestingly, larger corporates are also increasingly preferring such flexibility and are often willing to pay a premium for adaptable space.

What is the impact of the demand for agile real estate on the property industry?

Landlords, real estate owners, developers and investors need to have flexibility at the centre of their plans when configuring and marketing their space.  Shorter leases, mixed uses, the potential for, and impact of, adaptable space configuration and increased administration that can sometimes come with owning and managing such agile space, are all important considerations.  To help avoid a greater risk of voids, landlords and investors need an eye on the future as the continued growth of technology, remote working and the speed of doing business increases.  For commercial real estate, this will mean that spaces and leases that aren’t easily adaptable will quickly be out of date.

There is a risk that the disruptive impact of the ‘only pay for what you use’ approach of businesses on commercial real estate is seen as being driven by uncertainty and that this is therefore a negative trend.  This may not necessarily be the case.  What if, instead, this shared economy is the “new normal” for real estate, ie, that technological change and progress has brought with it a need for an agile estate?

Rapid business decision making and responsiveness is here to stay.  As organisations need to adapt to change so too does their real estate.

As real estate lawyers, we recognise the value that a good agent can have on a complex property transaction.  Their expert knowledge of the local real estate market ensures that terms of a deal can be agreed quickly and ensure that transactions run smoothly. However, could new methods of doing commercial property transactions diminish the role of the agent in more straight forward transactions?

Over the last 5 to 10 years, the residential property market has witnessed the impact that Rightmove and Zoopla have had on the way that residential properties are bought and sold.  The websites allow buyers and renters to find out everything they need to know about a property without setting foot in an agent’s office.  Companies such as Purplebricks have recognised the reduced role that the estate agent has in the house buying process by offering fixed fees for acting for sellers which are often a fraction of the price of the commission that agents would traditionally charge.  A look at the number of residential transactions that Purplebricks have advised on over the last few years shows what an impact the company has had.

To date, commercial property agents have escaped such disruption but is this about to change?

A number of companies are coming to the market who use data to make the property market more transparent to buyers and tenants.  New online platforms offer a greater wealth of data than ever before and provide the sort of information on properties that buyers and tenants might normally employ an agent to obtain.  Others are providing means to do business in a standardised way in a bid to mitigate transaction risks

Shoreditch start up, Hubble, for example, seeks to bring together people hunting for flexible office space and hotdesks with those who own it on an online platform.  Landlords are encouraged to make as much information as possible available on the space that they are seeking to let and tenants can then contact the landlords direct to arrange viewings.  A range of standard documents are then made available to help the landlord and tenant document the agreement reached.

Through this process, the role of the agent (and lawyer!) becomes unnecessary and the company claims that average transaction times can be vastly reduced as a result. 

Of course, the use of data alone could never fully replace the agent on more complex transactions and the model put forward by Hubble will at present only work with straight forward licence type arrangements.  On complex longer term leases tenants will still look to an experienced agent to get the comfort that what a landlord is offering is reasonable and represents the market norm, but on a shorter term, lettings where tenants are more likely to take a risk, the role of the agent could soon become obsolete.

Agencies are alive to the threats posed by data and technology and larger companies are investing heavily in both to remain relevant.


Many people think that virtual reality is a brand new concept – however its inception can be traced back to the 1960’s (albeit in a far lesser form). Nevertheless, its arrival into the real estate sphere is balanced with anticipation and uncertainty. What are the benefits of using virtual reality? What are the limitations? Most importantly, is the real estate industry ready and able to accommodate its use?

Virtual reality could reduce the need for site visits, surveys and other queries that a sceptical property purchaser or developer will want to ‘see to believe’. However, the potential to manipulate what is seen cannot be underestimated. The costs associated in arranging a virtual video of a building and then ensuring that it is periodically updated poses its own practical problems. Despite its limitations, technology has a habit of solving its own problems and so, eventually, the use of virtual reality may become an important cost saving solution for many developments.

But, is the real estate industry ready to move with the times? Well, at the moment, NO. Despite attempts to modernise real estate practices in recent times the stigma that many in the industry are ‘old school’ remains. However, the well-established traditional principles (for the most part) work in practice. The imposition of virtual reality may disrupt the safety net and certainty that many working in the industry crave. However, as more and more consumers are looking to maximise technological advances, it is vital that the real estate industry is ready to embrace it.

Recent figures show that 18% of the UK’s population is aged 65 or over and that 2.4% of our population is at least 85 years old.

Both the public and private sectors have responded effectively to demand from retirees to provide accommodation which enables them to maintain a stimulating lifestyle beyond their working lives.

Developers and investors alike are capitalising on the promising returns offered by this area of real estate, making retirement living one of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK property market at present. In addition, the rise of the retirement village is a positive step for the younger generations, as properties previously inhabited by their ageing counterparts are becoming increasingly available for purchase and rent.

The boom in this specialist housing is, however, something of a double-edged sword. Homes in retirement villages often bear hidden costs for the unwary. Leasehold properties are depreciating assets which can, unfortunately, become loss-makers for the residents who buy into them. In addition, the extra facilities tailored to the older generations carry much higher service charges than generic rental properties. Finally, tight controls on the companies that manage and re-sell these properties also result in higher agency fees than average.

The rise of the retirement village: do practicality and profit for the many outweigh the price tag for the few?

Currently most workers over 40 expect (or at least hope) to pay off their mortgage before they retire. Additionally they expect this will give them a greater net income during their last decade or more of work before they retire. When they do retire their outgoings should be less than they currently are (allowing for inflation) and everything looks rosy.

One gloomy cloud on the horizon is the many reports warning of a pensions time bomb as peoples’ pension savings fall short of expectations. One solution is to sell your home (down size if you are lucky enough to have a home bigger than you need) to bridge the gap.

But what happens if you rent? When do you stop paying rent? When you retire? Nope.

If the current generation of “nearly at pension agers” (to coin a new phrase) are looking to sell their homes to fund their pensions what happens to those coming after them who have already made the decision to rent for life and not buy?

These two factors, pension deficits and life time renters, are going to have a significant impact on the economy and the property market at some point. Add in student debt for those a little further down the road and you have a triple whammy.

How will this impact on the property market? Not just residential but leisure and retail too?

If you have a leisure or retail industry with a significant amount of retired people with good disposable incomes as its key customer base. What happens when that market no longer has the disposal income of their forbears? Presumably they spend less and demand drops.

When it comes to retirement private rental sector will the government step into the market to control or impact in some other way via the tax system?

Building management systems are already automation systems, responding to pre-programmed routines and external inputs such as thermometers. What happens as we see buildings become smarter? Can we use machine learning to improve building management systems?

Yes we can.

At its best machine learning sees computers or robots take information from large data sets and analyse it to see things that the human brain cannot. The machines can then apply that learning to new scenarios to better predict the future or react to new information. Combining machine learning with automation creates the genuinely beneficial AI (Artificial Intelligence) of the future.

Use of machine learning to enable a building management system to make more use of the data that surrounds us now and in the future e.g. weather forecasts, traffic analysis, connected calendars, can enable more efficient energy use and better experiences for the consumer.

Systems could also be more predictive (and connected) about maintenance requirements and spot issues within a building by analysing data.

This should complement human input into building management rather than replace it. Allowing the humans to react quicker and spend more time focused on the future will benefit businesses and owners.

The use of smart speakers (Village Hotels and Amazon Echo Dot) and chatbots (Holiday Inn and Bebot) in hotel rooms is one way in which hotel operators see new technology being a direct benefit to their customers. Will we see the same in the commercial and residential multi-let market places?

Consumers’ requirement for speed of information and a quick response is greater than ever and this will surely translate from our everyday home and leisure lives to the workplace environment. If the front desk is not manned how can I tell someone that I have a parcel arriving later today or need a communal meeting room for 9am tomorrow morning?

For property owners and operators this new technology will initially be brought in as a reaction to consumer demand but eventually it will become normal.

What issues and opportunities does this raise for owners and managers? Well here are a few to start with:

  1. Do we still need as many real live humans?
  2. What do we do about eavesdropping security?
  3. How do we make sure that what the speaker or chatbot tells us as owner/manager is what the user really wants?
  4. How do we still make human to human (or real world) connections to our consumers and build relationships that last?
  5. Can I be more international in my approach by using different languages with my customers?

A property developer in Manchester is proposing a radical new idea in housing - one bedroomed houses.

They claim that this will make house ownership cheaper and means that first time buyers do not need to save the extra money needed for a two or three bedroom house when, as a single person or couple, they only really need one bedroom.

In addition the new houses will be more modern in design than the standard three bed semi-detached in the suburbs and so more appealing to those buyers who may be used to a cool city centre rental apartment.

This raises a number of questions not least whether anyone does really want to buy a one-bedroom house?

There is also an issue currently with space and building on greenbelt. When land is at a premium should we be building upwards more instead of essentially lying a block of one bed apartments on its side to create houses?

The housing market as we are often told is in crisis and this is one of a number of potentially disrupting ideas to solve it. It will be interesting to see whether it takes off or not.

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