Small number, big problem

Even if – a very big if – global warming is held to the 1.5°C limit set by nearly 200 world leaders at the UN climate talks in Paris, this will represent a radical change in the global climate. The other big news from the Paris conference was an unprecedented emphasis on adapting to the change that is already happening, and which will continue for centuries to come, no matter what. Humankind faces an uncertain future in which extreme weather events are more frequent and more intense, and there is an escalating threat from storms, hail, flooding, droughts, tropical cyclones and landslides.

The Paris talks stopped short of setting targets or funding mechanisms, but the World Bank estimates that to adapt to a 2°C rise we would have to spend US$70-100bn each year between 2010 and 2050. The cost of not doing anything is pretty high too: over the last decade, annual damages to global real estate and infrastructure from severe weather events have tripled to US$150bn, reaching 8% of GDP in the worst hit regions, not including indirect losses to sectors such as tourism.

In this article for the RICS magazine, Modus, I investigated the far-reaching implications for property, from protecting individual homeowners against heatwaves and flooding, to future-proofing real-estate funds worth billions of dollars.

Modus_March 2016_pp26-27

And for much, much more detail on climate change adaptation, there’s this book I co-wrote for RIBA Publishing.

WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff – Skylines magazine

In October, my regular client WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff sponsored a host room at the annual conference of the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats in New York. I went along, listened in on two days of presentations and then turned it into a 72-page magazine, to be distributed to the company’s clients and partners worldwide. The overall theme of Skylines is the renaissance of tall buildings. There’s an unprecedented high-rise boom, but the new generation of towers will be very different from those that preceded them – not only in their giant scale but in the kind of spaces they offer, both in the sky and on the ground. Skylines explores what this looks like, from the perspective of designers, developers and city planners around the world.

WSP PB_Skylines cover

Who’s looking after your pension?

Eight years after the global crash, investors are flocking back to property, the market is more diverse than ever before and there’s talk of overheating. A significant proportion of this renewed investment is the pension savings of ordinary people. So how confident can we be that it won’t happen again? Banks, insurers and pension funds must all meet tougher regulatory requirements imposed since the crash, but property remains less stringently regulated than other asset classes, less transparent, and its risk management procedures are less well developed. As the current market cycle wears on, investors will inevitably be drawn into taking riskier positions to secure improved returns – positions that could leave them dangerously exposed when the next crash comes. In this cover feature for Modus, I interviewed Martin Brühl of German fund manager Union Investment Real Estate, currently president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, about his plans to set a global standard for risk management. I also spoke to RICS members about the challenges of spotting genuinely uncorrelated assets, identifying the real source of funds in a completely international market, and maintaining constant vigilance over a global portfolio.

Modus_Jan-Feb 2016 cover

Very private property

Bad news for property snoopers: the UK’s most desirable homes are disappearing from estate agents windows, adverts and online searches. They don’t have For Sale signs, let alone glossy brochures or online walkthroughs, and you certainly won’t find them at auction. Around the world, an increasing proportion of deals are taking place off-market, in private or “whisper” sales. Instead of publicly marketing a property, agents in this most exclusive of sectors use their contacts to discreetly match buyers and sellers. Only a handful of people know that a deal is taking place, and the rest of the market will only hear about it after the deal is closed, if at all. I spoke to agents in London, Dubai and Melbourne to find out the tricks of the trade in this cover feature for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Nice work if you can get it

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.

Modus_Wine feature

Space: the final frontier

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.

EG_Life sciences report