The circular economy

It looks like the construction industry is finally out of recession – and facing a whole set of not-so-new issues. I interviewed Tony Giddings of developer Argent for Building about his £1bn pipeline at King’s Cross and elsewhere, and whether he’s concerned about rising costs and finding firms to build it all in a suddenly booming market.

Spring in the countryside (part I)

Scarlett O’Hara’s dad knew what he was about. When he told his sceptical daughter that land was the only thing worth having because it’s the only thing that lasts, it took her more than three hours, a civil war and several husbands to come round to his way of thinking. But were he investing in the UK today, O’Hara senior would have no doubt felt vindicated. Land has weathered the recession better than anything else, not only holding its value but increasing it almost three-fold over the last ten years, as investors of every kind have piled into the market. In this special report for Estates Gazette, I investigated the extraordinary success of rural land, and what could check its progress, from the abolition of inheritance tax relief to Scottish independence.

Also included: an interview with James Townshend, CEO of Velcourt, one of Britain’s biggest farming businesses, who said that advances in biotechnology should increase productivity by 25% within the next ten years.

So that’s what goes on in the East Midlands

Does the word “eaches” mean anything to you? Do you know your omnichannel from your multichannel, your NDCs from your LATs, your dark stores from your cross-docks? In short, do you speak retail logistics? It’s a language that is fast evolving as a growing proportion of sales are made online, and retailers’ distribution networks are re-engineered to serve a much more dynamic market. In this special report for Estates Gazette, I investigated what this means for the traditionally unglamorous world of sheds – and found that what goes on behind the scenes is a lot more interesting than you might expect… Also in this issue: I interviewed Dino Rocos, operations director at John Lewis, on being a market-leader in omnichannel distribution and how it’s planning to stay ahead of the competition, and the customer.

Ghost town

For years, London’s dominance as the world’s leading financial centre was matched by the dominance of financial services in the capital’s property market. But while the financial crisis doesn’t seem to have challenged the City’s position as the favourite destination for global capital, lettings to the sector dropped like a stone – and still haven’t recovered. Where financial services companies once took one in three lettings in the City, they are now lagging behind both TMT and professional services. In this nine-page special report for Estates Gazette, I spoke to property experts and financial services firms themselves to find out whether the change is permanent, and interviewed RBS’ head of property strategy about his plans to streamline its vast office portfolio in readiness for re-privatisation.

“The world isn’t going to get a lot easier for a long time”

The surveying profession has already weathered 145 years, even if few members of the general public could tell you exactly what they do. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (est.1868) has not, however, made it this far by being complacent. It commissioned a report looking at how the world around it might change over the next 30 years, which points out that 25 years ago, the Berlin wall was still standing, the internet was a distant dream and hardly anyone was talking about globalisation. Conversely, we have no idea which of our current preoccupations – from climate change and the collapse of global economic structures, to Building Information Modelling and higher university tuition fees – will have the greatest impact in the decades to come. For the danger-themed April issue of the RICS’ magazine, Modus, I interviewed six senior surveyors about the threats facing the profession, confronting prolonged recession, technological obsolescence and even extinction.

“You could say they are doomed to fail”

A journey into unknown territory … an impossible target … and an estates department determined to go down fighting … Alright, so it’s not exactly Andy McNab, but the challenge facing the Defence Infrastructure Organisation is still pretty dramatic. Over the next four years, the MoD’s new estates division must save £1.2bn from property disposals, direct estate costs, energy and water bills and staff numbers. This means it must cut an organisation with a headcount of more than 7,000 down to just 2,000 people, rationalise a property portfolio worth about £20bn, and reinvent itself from the ground up, with new business processes, IT infrastructure and operating procedures. I spoke to the heads of the DIO to find out how they’re going to do it – and the rest of the construction industry to assess their chances of success.