Buy now, pay later

Why drain your cash reserves to pay for your office fit-out, when you could spread the cost over several years and turn it into a tax-deductible expense? Leasing fit-outs is not a new concept, but it’s never really caught on – clients may be wary of taking out a loan or the rigorous credit checks involved, they may not fully understand the financial benefits, and many clients and contractors don’t even know it’s an option. But those contractors and suppliers who do routinely offer it to clients say that it’s a no-brainer for both parties. The availability of finance took a hit during the credit crunch, when lenders retreated from the market. They are now returning, however – in many cases faster than high street lenders. Leasing companies believe that with capital budgets still tight and limited finance available from other sources, their moment may have come. In this piece for AIS Interiors Focus magazine, I spoke to them, and their clients, to find out whether it really pays off.

Market forces

If you’re in any doubt that insurers secretly rule the world, take a look at the latest edition of Lloyd’s Market magazine. For this issue’s Foresight section, I interviewed insurance experts on Mexico’s controversial new government and its likely impact on infrastructure, organised crime and the oil and gas sector; the latest EU sanctions that prohibit insurers and reinsurers covering the transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products; how a Greek exit from the euro could throw contract law across the EU into chaos; the construction of the Square Kilometre Array, the world’s largest radio telescope with 3000 antennas spanning Australia and South Africa; and gadgets in your car that log not only your driving behaviour but reveal your whole personality…

Micro economics

How much should we spend to save a tonne of carbon emissions? That’s one question raised in this article for Building magazine, prompted by a report commissioned by the British Council for Offices (BCO), which attempts to attach some cold, hard numbers to the disparate costs and benefits of small-scale installations of technologies such as photovoltaic panels and biomass boilers. Their startling conclusion is that commercial developers are paying an average of £380 per tonne of emissions reduced and, in the most extreme cases, as much as £2,800. The authors argue that the economics of renewables is strikingly similar to any other method of power generation – and that you wouldn’t ask a developer to pay for a mini nuclear power station on the roof of an office block. But does such a narrow focus on costs give the full picture? Others argue that no other property investment is ever subjected to such close analysis, and that if green technologies don’t stack up, perhaps the problem is not the technologies themselves but the way the calculations are done. They pose a different question: given the urgency of cutting our carbon emissions and the cost of replacing our ageing power stations, can we afford not to seize every opportunity to reduce the bill?

You’re being followed

Pedestrian modelling is one of the fastest-developing fields in building design, using real-world data and computer simulations to predict how people will move through a space. In this piece for Modus (the magazine of the RICS) I tracked its progress from a primitive fire evacuation tool to a highly complex technology for testing security in airports and high-rise towers, avoiding overcrowding in railway stations and school corridors, and even boosting productivity in offices. In fact, modellers say that the only thing holding them back is the lack of data on how people actually behave in real-life. Their ideal would be to attach a tracker to every resident of a city and follow them as they move around – and that’s pretty close to what is actually possible with GPS-enabled smartphones and bluetooth devices now in many people’s pockets. In fact, if you went to the Olympics this year with a bluetooth device, you’ve already been part of a mass (anonymous) data-gathering exercise, tracking people moving from nearby transport hubs into the Olympic Park, which could be repeated city-wide in the near future…