That the climate is changing is now “unequivocal” according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, the changes caused by our past emissions will continue for centuries. That means we have no choice but to adapt, and it is the world’s coasts that will be on the frontline of that adaptation, under threat from rising sea levels and more frequent storms and flooding. Coasts are also the most densely populated places on earth – most of the world’s major cities are on floodplains and, by 2050, they will be home to 70% of an estimated population of 9bn people. In this piece for Modus magazine, I investigated how engineers worldwide are preparing to fight the tides. I found that the response very much depends on how valuable coastal land is, and that the most valuable land is not necessarily where you’d expect. In the declining cities of the developed world, a managed retreat seems to be the only option; in Jakarta, meanwhile, demand for land is so high that the authorities are planning to build a completely new city several miles into the bay.
In the UK, self-build has always been the preserve of a courageous minority, accounting for around 10% of homes. Now the government wants to make it a genuine option for many more people, following the example of countries such as Germany and Sweden where self-builders are responsible for more than 60% of all new homes. A year on from my article for Construction Manager on the government’s self-build housing strategy, I assessed how it’s doing for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. And given that self-builders’ two biggest concerns are still – and likely to remain – land and money, I found that surveyors are well placed to offer them advice.
Small may be a relative concept when it comes to homes, but there’s no question that the “micro homes” increasingly popular in crowded cities around the world are very, very small indeed. I investigated the phenomenon of shrinking spaces for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, speaking to residents of tiny houses smaller than most people’s garages, office designers condensing the footprint per employee by a third, and psychologists seeking to find out how our diminishing place in the world is changing the way we think.
If you think the UK has reached saturation point for supermarkets, think again. In fact, we’re still relatively under-served compared with other European countries and the US – France and Germany have nearly twice as much supermarket space per capita, and the US has triple. All the big chains and quite a few newcomers have been taking an aggressive approach to expansion over the last few years, and they’re not planning on slowing down any time soon, as I found out in this analysis of the supermarkets sector for Building magazine.
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.
Admit it: you would secretly love to build your own home. But even though many people will have probably considered it at some time or another, very few of us will ever take the plunge. This is the Grand Designs paradox: the ubiquity of property programmes on TV encourages us all to dream of designing the perfect home, while simultaneously presenting a hellish vision of construction nightmares and financial ruin that ensures only the bravest will ever attempt it. But that could all change if housing minister Grant Shapps achieves his ambition to make self-build a more realistic option. In this article for Construction Manager magazine, I assessed his chances of transforming the UK into a nation of housebuilders.
My article for Building magazine on the many flaws in the government’s healthcare reforms turned out to be very timely – by the time it appeared, they’d had a major rethink. Indeed, there was so much to say on the unanswered questions in the Health and Social Care Bill that the article ended up expanding over five pages, and that was only looking at a relatively non-emotive aspect of the plans: what exactly is going to happen to the £36bn-worth of property owned by the Primary Care Trusts once they’re gone?
Everyone’s jumping on the sustainability bandwagon these days – and insurers are no exception. In June, I wrote for Insurance Times’ Property Focus on their unlikely forays into Energy Performance Certificates for buildings, as well as the Teflon-resilience of the super-rich in the recession, and the cast of thousands working behind the scenes to settle a big fire claim.
In January, I wrote an article for Time Out about something that’s been worrying me for a while: how chain restaurants are devouring the streets of London. During the construction boom, big “mixed use” schemes that claimed to be transforming vast swathes of the city were all the rage. What developers didn’t mention was that they would be transforming everywhere into exactly the same place. Now you walk through New Street Square and it’s almost identical to Bankside, and Spitalfields, and the South Bank, and Paternoster Square… I took to the streets to find out why developers display such a depressing, and dangerous, lack of imagination.