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My journey to property: Natalia Ford, Senior Sustainability Consultant

We’re celebrating #BalanceforBetter this International Women’s Day to help inspire a more diverse range of people to consider how they can help shape the future built environment.

To begin, we spoke with five ladies from across TFT who each represent different roles and experiences. They reflect some of the exciting roles within the industry as well as the different backgrounds which can set somebody up for a career in the world of property and development.

Here we speak to Natalia Ford, Senior Sustainability Consultant, to learn a bit about her journey to TFT and why she encourages more women to continue pushing boundaries.

How did you get into the industry and your role?

Whilst living in Spain for a few years, I worked in various property-related industries including real estate, architecture, construction and development and it left an impression on me – mainly a negative one – as much of what I saw was development done terribly!

I then came back to the UK to do a masters in Environmental Management and whilst half way through the course I realised that the industry I knew the most about had some big, hairy problems, so I decided to specialise in built environment issues.

I applied to the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) for an internship which eventually turned into a full-time role and I spent six years learning about how the industry works and how it is currently facing up to environmental, social and economic challenges.

Have you come across any (other) particular challenges within it?

Other than the stark, intractable challenges of our future climate, soil health, biodiversity, bioabundance, energy security, urban poverty, social equity, physical and mental health and how the buildings we create contribute to that…?

Yes, there are undoubtedly challenges both in the work itself and in being a woman in a male-dominant sector. But probably the main challenge is convincing people that things do not have to be done in the way things have always been done and that it’s worth exploring where the business opportunities and value can be found in a “business-as-unusual” scenario.

Do you have any advice to give people who don’t know too much about it or who are considering going into the industry?

For the sustainability industry, I would say eternal optimism and patience is quite helpful!

More broadly though, genuine curiosity and enthusiasm goes a very long way even if you don’t consider yourself to have a lot of knowledge. Often employers will recruit people they feel have potential, so don’t worry about not knowing everything yet!

TFT votes to support local causes

In January, we were happy to ring in the New Year by giving everybody at TFT an extra day of leave to help a charity of their choice. Now, we are deepening our commitment to the local communities of each office around the country, with each office voting on local charities close to their homes and hearts, to support beyond the day job.

Each of our 7 offices in the UK (Bristol, Cardiff, Guildford, London, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh) have chosen their two local charities in hope to give back to the communities they value the most. Typically, local charities are often in need of extra feet on the ground, so we hope this will also encourage more volunteering opportunities for each office.

While local charities benefit from personal involvement of local people, our teams will also see the impact of their contributions first hand.  

We want to be part of the bigger picture, helping to improve local environments and economies. Not only do local charities employ locally, encouraging personal interactions, but they also contribute to the growth and improvement of the direct community around us. As this community around us grows, we see significant and visible results enhancing overall wellbeing (Guardian, 2014).

Chris Keates-Lewis, Head of HR, said:

“This is an exciting direction for us, bringing our offices together in a TFT global effort to improve the lives of those closest to us, and the environment in which we enjoy our lives.”

The chosen charities include:

London: Bankside Open Spaces and Coram’s Fields

Guildford: Challengers and Macmillan Surrey

Bristol: St Peter’s Hospice and The West of England MS Therapy Centre

Cardiff: The Wallich and Ty Hafan

Birmingham: Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice and Zoe’s Place

Manchester: Wood Street Mission and 42nd Street

Edinburgh: The Cystic Fibrosis trust and Staffie Smiles.

TFT will also continue to support LionHeart and LandAid as their chosen national charities.

Sustainability and wellbeing standards re-aligned: WELL Crosswalks

The International Well Building Institute (IWBI) has released an update to the WELL crosswalk tool following the release of WELL version 2. The update aims to make this certification more accessible, impactful and better localised to its users around the world, by aligning WELL with sustainability assessments like BREEAM and LEED.

The latest release enables WELL version 2, as a standard for human health and wellbeing, to mesh with the most updated version BREEAM 2018, the leading sustainability assessment in the world – on which we advise many clients’ strategy and implementation across their schemes.

There are few synergies as connected and complementary as sustainability for both our planet and for people everywhere. Longevity is at the heart of the term “sustainability” – preserving and enhancing what we have now for generations to come.

From IWBI’s introduction to their latest WELL v2/ BREEAM crosswalk tool

But what impact does this have on our work, and for client projects?

Simply, the crosswalk tool insures that WELL version 2 and BREEAM New Construction 2018 cater to new developments across the UK, meaning that requirements for both are better aligned and can be met more efficiently.

Looking further ahead, this latest update shows the power of engagement with standards bodies. We have been proactive in communicating with IWBI for the WELL building standard to adapt and evolve for a better fit with other industry standards within the UK.

Our voice, along with those of other outspoken users in the wellbeing and sustainability community, has been well heeded by IWBI, which is clearly interested in developing its work to fit the needs of its users, and in providing a flexible standard for a globally developed WELL community.

It’s a great sign for continued advancement – both of the standard and therefore the quality of the buildings it contributes to.

My MIPIM: Dan Henn

As we start to imagine the sand between our toes and the smell of the fresh ocean air, we spoke to another TFT MIPIM attendee, Dan Henn (Partner and Head of Development & Project Consultancy) to get his view on regional trends and how to seize the opportunities MIPIM has to offer.

What has changed the most in the industry, since MIPIM 2018?

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the property and construction world seems to be more or less business as usual. There was a hiatus of decision making in the industry after the May 2017 general election but eventually those time-bound decisions that weren’t being made (which were becoming urgent) had to be made – and the work continues apace.

What would you like to see more (or less) of at MIPIM 2019?

More sunshine and less rain!

What industry topic isn’t getting enough attention?

Retail parks. We are all very used to hearing about the high street and the need to keep up with the pace of the changing consumer behaviour, as our shopping habits become more online-oriented. Will retail parks fall by the wayside, will they become more important, or take a new form altogether?

We’re seeing such a demand across other burgeoning sectors (industrial, logistics, build to rent and senior living) – they represent a wealth of opportunities to re-purpose poorly trading sites into an alternative high performing asset.

What regional trends would you like to explore at MIPIM?

I’m interested in the booming market in the midlands. Following an uptick of activity TFT is investing in project management and cost consultancy resources to match client demand for our services across the region.

Elsewhere, there are interesting micro-markets in London where demand for offices is still strong and fuelling development.

What should every MIPIM first-timer do, or not do?

Don’t fill your diary up too much! The temptation is to accept every offer going in a hope to make sure that you are fully occupied. The real value is in those chance meetings walking along La Croisette or queuing for a drink at the London stand.

On a similar note, avoid those tempting lunches at a fantastic venue but out in the sticks. As nice as they are, they can take you away from the hub where those chance conversations are happening.

My MIPIM: Lisa Gunn

Lisa Gunn, TFT’s Head of Business Development and Marketing, suggests a little sustainable self-reflection and wants to hear new ideas for future-proof buildings this year on the Croisette (or during the Cycle to MIPIM ride beforehand, if you can catch her!).

What do you hope to see more of at MIPIM this year?

Though sustainability has been a prominent theme in previous years, I am happy to say it will almost certainly be even more widespread this year as the global environmental condition becomes more of a mainstream concern. What I would like to add to those conversations is a little self-reflection on our own industry. When we’re advising our clients on measures to improve their sustainability and wellness credentials, are we consistently applying that thinking to our own industry operations?

Will proptech set the agenda at MIPIM 2019? Should it?

As the market matures, we may be approaching a period of consolidation in proptech. So perhaps a gathering like MIPIM is a good place to understand where the real innovation and long-term value is. It’s likely next year will present a very different landscape of tools or services, so we’ve got to look closely at what could grow and what might disappear.

What would be your advice to a MIPIM first timer?

Two things:

  1. Take time to get away from the madness! MIPIM can be an intense experience, so step away from the Palais and see the old town and Cannes Castle on the top of the hill. The views from the Castle at dusk views are stunning.
  2. Don’t lose sight that MIPIM is work, and that you’re most likely attending as an ambassador for your business, and always as a representative of the industry too. Drinks are everywhere, so know your limits or devise a strategy to limit your consumption without having to duck out of the action. I find early meetings are some of the most productive of the day, so make sure you’re able to get up and make them count!

Is there an industry topic you feel is not getting enough attention?

Though it’s often brought up, we don’t yet have an industry consensus on the skills shortage, or a shared course of action to remedy it. Brexit will only make this issue more acute for construction and affect the viability of buildings due to increased costs of labour. 

Who would you like to meet at MIPIM?

I’m fascinated by Innovations in flexible use of buildings – not just multi-use developments, but buildings which have multiple lives planned in to them from the outset.

One example I’ve enjoyed seeing is from the U.S., where AvalonBay Communities has created a parking garage which anticipates a time when ride-sharing services or self-driving cars reduce car reliance (and our need for parking places).

With some smart design, such as level rather than inclined floors, the building is designed for future lives as shops, a gym or a theatre, for instance. I’d be very interested to meet with ambitious funds or owners who are applying this kind of long-term view to their assets.

My MIPIM: David Mann

David Mann, Partner at TFT, tells us what he would like to see in Cannes this year and how he hopes diversity will drive this year’s crowds.

What has changed the most in your work/industry view, since MIPIM 2018?

In reality very little, we remain busy! However, our clients are more risk-averse than ever which means our technical due diligence on acquisition of existing assets or monitoring of new developments is even more important.

What would you like to see more of at MIPIM 2019?

The ‘elephant in the room’ campaign (pink elephant badges) last year was very clever. This in response to the spotlight being shone on our industry (post-Presidents’ Club) for unacceptable behaviour by a minority, as well as a lack of diversity across the board. I suspect many businesses will be more considerate of this when looking at the team they send to MIPIM this year.

For instance, we are expecting circa 100 members of Freehold to be in Cannes this year.

Freehold is a networking forum for LGBTQ real estate professionals, co-founded by David.

What would you most like to talk about at MIPIM?

I’d like to talk about risk mitigation in a risky world, building trusted relationships and improving the reputation and desirability of our industry for the next generation seeking out their career paths.

Relating to this, I’d like to focus on normality post-Brexit and the huge power for good that the Property Industry represents. More than ever we are putting corporate social responsibility and improving local communities at the forefront of what we do, so I want to help push that forwards.

Is Proptech going to set the agenda this year? Do you think that it should?

From a building surveyor’s perspective, no, but it will be interesting to see if there are any exhibitors offering new software/hardware.

What should every MIPIM first-timer do, or not do?  

I am currently helping a friend of mine who is a ‘first-timer’ – I have told them to treat it very much as an initial fact-finding experience to build on in future years. Try not to lose your head, pace yourself and don’t expect immediate results, it’s all about the follow up post-MIPIM!

My MIPIM: Alistair Allison

With MIPIM 2019 fast approaching, we caught up with the team to get their thoughts on the world’s biggest property event.

First up, we asked Alistair Allison, Partner at TFT, what he thought of the changing property landscape, hype versus utility and his advice for any MIPIM first-timers!

What has changed the most in your work/ industry view, since MIPIM 2018?

Globalisation of the UK market has been particularly evident over the past 12 months, with significant investment and development capital coming over from Asia and North America. Whilst historically this was limited to trophy assets in London, the focus is stretching to regional cities and logistics assets. Despite what we assumed would be a tentative market in anticipation of Brexit, we have also seen increasing transaction volumes across the board this year, including a notably increased appetite of UK based investors seeking to invest in mainland Europe.

What sector changes are interesting you at the moment?

Co-working office space providers have continued to evolve and challenge the traditional office concept, growing their market share and forcing traditional landlords to embrace customer service, flexibility and the ‘experience’. Whilst this is not likely to overly threaten the market for larger corporate space providers and occupiers, it certainly reinforces the need to move away from the adversarial landlord and tenant relationship to resemble a provider and customer relationship.

The immediate impacts include flexible leasing terms, space that considers ‘wellness’ as a priority and additional services on top of the space itself. In the long term, these different approaches will open many opportunities that landlords may have considered off the table historically.

Is proptech going to set the agenda this year? Do you think that it should?

Real, disrupting technology that changes the way the property industry works should absolutely be high on the agenda. For instance, I’m interested in the nascent use of block-chain technology to unlock liquidity issues and costs in real estate transactions.

However, with all of the hype surrounding ‘Proptech’, there is still some confusion over what is really innovative and game-changing and what is simply an improvement in tech that assists the way we work. Both are needed, but I would like to enter more discussions about the future operation of our industry, and how we can prepare today for current (and future) technological advances in real estate.

MIPIM’s 30th edition slogan is ‘Engaging the future’ – what should the industry do now to succeed in the next 30 years?

Focus on talent and investing in the future from school age upwards. The younger generation is far less fixed on a traditional career and arguably faced with far more exciting and interesting prospects. The application of ‘tech’ in the property industry will open up a wider scope of roles and skillsets we may never have considered important for our work to date.

What should every MIPIM first-timer do, or not do?

Plan your diary carefully and resist the temptation to attend back-to-back events. The instinct is to book everything you can in the hope that you’ll meet your dream clients/contacts. But with everyone stepping outside of their normal business environment, MIPIM is the ideal opportunity to meet with industry contacts, existing or potential clients etc to really understand a bit more about their business and aspirations. That’s not always possible with a crammed agenda!

The rise of the contractor ‘Brexit clause’

Predictions from the UK property industry on the likely impact of Brexit continue to change and develop as negotiations progress. One of the more immediate concerns which face projects underway now and commencing soon is a possible trend towards contractors adding a ‘Brexit clause’ to the terms of their contract.

This clause relates to limiting the level of risk which contractors are willing to accept with respect to procurement and delivery of materials. Where contractors would normally take on the risks associated with importing materials, the ongoing Brexit discussions make for an unpredictable future process in which supply chains might be blocked or delayed beyond contractors’ control.

In cases where a Brexit clause is added to a contractor’s terms, the contractor is expecting the client to accept the risk involved in the form of project delays or cost fluctuations (as a result of tariffs or storage costs for example).

TFT is currently aware of a few instances of these amended Brexit clauses to date and advises clients that these are likely to become more common as uncertainty of the UK’s relationship with the EU continues, particularly if ultimately a “no deal” outcome is reached.

Our further advice to clients is to understand the supply chains for construction products and materials at an early stage to identify areas of risk. As an example, whilst a product may be produced by a UK manufacturer, it may have components from elsewhere all over the globe (or more importantly in this instance, from one of the 27 remaining EU countries). This level of scrutiny of the source of origin for products and materials will be beneficial from a risk perspective and may also be of benefit for sustainability reasons.

Additionally, it is worth clients and their advisors undertaking further due diligence during the contractor selection process to understand what contingency plans they have for managing some of the risks around importing of materials. For example, some contractors are already putting in place holding facilities either side of major ports such as Dover and Calais. With such facilities in place and with careful consideration of lead-in times, this will help to alleviate possible effects to programmes caused by importing delays.

Some contractors are also forward purchasing Euros to the value of supply chain commitments for goods and services from EU member states, to avoid the impact of currency fluctuations. In addition to the above, some contractors are looking to amend contract terms where if, following Brexit, there are more onerous changes to statute in the UK which were previously covered by EU legislation, the contractor is looking to push that risk back to the Employer.

If you have further questions relating to the nature of these Brexit clauses and next steps to resolve supply chain issues, please contact Dan Henn, Partner and Head of Development and Project Consultancy.

Manchester’s Beetham Tower in disrepair: Lessons from a “Draconian” remedy

Beetham Tower, Manchester. Source: Craig Sunter.

A new disrepair case has been reported, relating to Manchester’s tallest building: the iconic Beetham Tower in Manchester (you know it; that new glass one with the top half larger than the bottom half). Here we explore the ramifications and lessons to learn from an unusual case.

In Blue Manchester Limited v North West Ground Rents Ltd [2019] EWHC 142 (TCC), the judge heard about three issues including potential disrepair to the cladding.

The Landlord had obligations to the hotel-operator Tenant to keep the retained parts of the building (including the cladding) in repair.  Problems had been found with parts of the cladding installation and, prior to the hearing, a temporary solution had been implemented.  More particularly, the bond provided by the structural sealant of the insulated ‘shadow box units’ was failing in some cases.  The temporary remedy was to screw-stitch pressure plates to the frame profiles, to hold the panels securely in position.

The question for the judge to consider was whether, at the time of the hearing, the cladding was in disrepair.  He found that it was in disrepair.  In so doing, he relied to a very large extent on the 5-stage analysis of disrepair published within Dowding and Reynold’s dilapidations text book.  He also took the aesthetics of the building into account.

To the observer, informed only by the facts as reported in the judgement, it seems relatively clear-cut that the cladding would be found to be in disrepair.

For the defendant landlord though, this appears to have been a problematic case for three particular reasons:

  1. They are a ground rent company and may have had little expectation of having to get involved with works of this scale, the recovery of the cost of which might be restricted by the terms of leases with the various tenants.
  2. Matters were also complicated somewhat by the demise of Carillion and by both parties holding warranties against the cladding sub-contractor.
  3. The claimant tenant was (unusually) asking the judge to award the remedy of ‘specific performance’ as well as damages.

It is the granting of an order for specific performance which perhaps elevates this case to the unusual.

That remedy was awarded despite the judge describing it as ‘draconian’ and also despite the tenant having an alternative contractual remedy akin to a Jervis v Harris process.

It is more normal for specific performance not to be granted in England and Wales, because the terms of any order can be difficult to draft, such that it would be difficult for the party obliged to comply with the order to know whether it was doing so in an appropriate manner.  In this case the judge allowed what he considered to be a reasonably generous time frame (of 18 months) for the landlord to comply, and also allowed the landlord to apply to the court for further guidance under certain circumstances.

The Tenant was also awarded damages for any continuing loss it may suffer as a consequence of the landlord’s various breaches.

It is not known whether leave to appeal will be requested or granted, or any appeal made or won.

Lessons to learn:

  1. Parties to a lease (or indeed any contract) should understand the potential implications of the obligations they are signing up to. It sounds as though the landlord might have difficulty recovering all of the cost of the works through the service charge, and this in circumstances where their 999 year interest will have meant that any opportunity to claim against the development team would expire (relatively) quickly, because the warranties would not be for an equivalent 999 years.
  2. Don’t assume that specific performance will not be granted. It just might; going to court is an uncertain business.
  3. Inspect cladding installations regularly and frequently, even if they are ‘new’.

Scottish property: foundations for growth

2019 promises exciting developments for Scotland’s property market, off the back of multiple findings suggesting the region’s potential for investment and development.

Scottish property outperformed its five-year average in 2018, as commercial investment reached £2.5bn thanks to increased involvement by some big UK funds and continued high interest by overseas investors. Mid-year, Scotland was found to be the best performing market in the UK, growing by 5.6% compared to Wales’ 4.4% and England’s 3.7% growth over the same period.

The upshot of increased investment is a set of development projects which look to usher in a new era for Scottish urban life. Cultural centres, retail units and residential property are all springing up to meet a demand for a higher standard of amenities in the region. This is especially true for major centres like Edinburgh, in which ambition and performance of building projects currently underway could set a precedent for future development around the country.

Two years of progress on the TFT monitored Edinburgh St James development

The highest profile of these is the Edinburgh St James redevelopment. Located in the heart of Scotland’s capital, between Calton Hill and St Andrew Square, the project has an opportunity to combine culture and commerce for the benefit of occupants and visitors, driving the long-term success of owners and investors.

The scheme comprises a world-class retail, leisure, hotel and residential offer, including Scotland’s first W Hotel, first boutique Everyman Cinema, a flagship John Lewis department store and 150 apartments offering unrivalled amenities and views across the city.

TFT’s role as Project Monitors on Edinburgh St James is to ensure the planning, design and construction of the development proceeds by resolving challenges at an early stage and by protecting the budget and timescale of the work. In major works like this, that role is crucial given extensive excavation and replacement of existing infrastructure in and around the site, and working around an open department store – John Lewis – without disruption.

And it’s not just retail, leisure and residential sites which are pointing towards growth. TFT’s Edinburgh office is working on a combined 376,705 square feet of major office schemes on behalf of Legal and General in in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The skills to navigate these challenges will only be more in demand as development continues around Scotland – whether it’s in a busy city centre, redeveloping older sites, or breaking ground in a new site, careful management of the project will be crucial to maximising its success.

On a recent site visit, we saw the major changes afoot, and the new St James centre taking shape. With Scotland’s national growth also looking strong for the future, we’re excited to guide subsequent works that drive its success.