The “fluid” themed issue of Modus was too good an opportunity to pass up: I pitched a feature about surveyors working in the world of wine. Happily they went for it, so I went to meet a property-developer-turned-château-negociant in the Bordeaux vineyards, who talked me through the 50 questions every prospective buyer should ask, and why they should forget about making any money. I spoke to an Australian agrarian about the toll that climate change is already taking on the Riverland’s parched vines and the financial woes of its major exporters. And, closer to home, I interviewed a fine-wine auctioneer in Cambridge about snaffling a bargain as the colleges turn out their cellars – and how to avoid a very expensive disappointment.
Weird and wonderful education buildings fill the pages of the autumn issue of Concrete Quarterly magazine, which my company produces for the Concrete Centre. There’s a Zaha Hadid university extension in Oxford that bends round a giant redwood tree to connect two Victorian houses – and whose computer-generated design is impossible to show on plan or section. Thomas Heatherwick was banned from including corridors and corners from the Nanyang learning centre in Singapore, so he created eight bulging hive-like towers, minutely embellishing every curving surface into the bargain. Then there’s a research facility outside Paris that could be easily mistaken for a public park, hidden under three vast, undulating green roofs. And after all that, Stirling Prize winner Burntwood school by AHMM makes a relatively sedate cover star.
In August, the Concrete Centre asked my company Wordmule to develop another new magazine format – this time, a sort of compendium drawing together content from previous issues of Concrete Quarterly on a particular theme. The first focuses on tall buildings, to tie in with the global high-rise building boom and an event the Concrete Centre was hosting. We created a flexible, repeatable format with a mix of new and old content, and a refreshed look and feel, both distinct from CQ but clearly related. Read it here.
Niall Martin, COO of Mission Therapeutics, is stumped. This comes as little surprise given his company’s business is “developing small molecule drugs to target deubiquitinating enzymes involved in the DNA damage response, with the aim of inducing synthetic lethality”. But that’s not the problem. It’s space. “We’ve got 35 people and we could expand. We’re looking to get finance, we’re looking at grants and deals with other companies, and all of those are bringing in headcount. We could go to 45 within the next few months but we just don’t have the space to do that.”
This is the challenge facing many SME firms in the UK life sciences industry, the subject of this special report for Estates Gazette. The government wants the UK to become the global hub for life sciences, a sprawling £868bn mega-sector spanning pharmaceuticals, medical technology and biotechnology and encompassing everything from hospital equipment and prosthetic limbs to drug development and gene therapy. But SMEs are the lifeblood of the industry, and if they can’t find suitable lab space, they can’t grow. The fundamental problem seems to be reconciling biotech’s dynamism with property investors’ craving for certainty. Laboratories are expensive to build and highly specialised for different fields, but corporate life cycles are short and unpredictable. Firms may swell exponentially when their eureka moment arrives, or disband overnight if it turns into a dead end. So what’s the answer? I spoke to people across the property and life sciences sectors trying to make a breakthrough.
The Midlands is renowned for its metal exports in many forms. What is less well known is that it’s the UK’s medical technology heartland, which means it produces quite a lot of hospital equipment and orthopaedic devices too. Medtech is an £18bn subsector of the UK’s life sciences industry, and together, the West and East Midlands are home to 30% of companies. In this piece for Estates Gazette, I interviewed Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham city council, about his mission to raise the region’s medtech profile and the £800m property portfolio he’s identified to do it.
Inside Housing is the most widely read magazine for the UK social housing sector. I edited a 36-page supplement to tie in with the biggest event in the housing calendar, the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference in Manchester. As social landlords waited anxiously to find out their fate under the new Conservative government, the supplement took an in-depth look at the apparently unstoppable shift of power from Westminster to the regions, and whether councils could ever reprise their role as major housebuilders.
The magazine also included four “sponsored chapters” – bespoke editorial produced in association with a sponsor on a particular topic. The overarching theme inevitably became “doing more with less”, as ever-deeper spending cuts force those providing public services to make some difficult choices.
Last time Britain faced a housing crisis on this scale, it was local authorities that built our way out of it. The days when council building departments threw up gargantuan estates may be long gone, but there has been a quiet renaissance over the last three years as they deliver a small but growing proportion of new homes. Whether this is a scalable part of a long-term solution or just a blip in the continuing decline of council stock will depend on the policies of the new government – and it’s already clear that it’s not going to be easy. I interviewed a man who’s really hoping it’s the former: Eamon McGoldrick, managing director of the National Federation of ALMOs – the arm’s length management organisations that are responsible for most of this housebuilding. The article appeared in Inside Housing magazine, in a supplement which I also edited.