HMRC Stratford hub celebrates topping out ceremony before it becomes home to Brexit preparations

The HMRC hub topping outs are well underway and we recently witnessed the new HMRC London office, Stratford, reach its highest point.

The 297,328 sqft headquarters will home 4,400 public servants and is due to be complete in late 2020. When it was leased, the hub was projected to base 3,800 staff, but this has now risen in numbers to accommodate work on Brexit.

TFT has been appointed as fund monitor by L&G since January 2018 and is providing monthly reporting to the fund on various aspects of the project.

Katie Brooks, Associate at TFT who lead the monitoring team on the development said:

We are pleased to represent L&G on this exciting and high profile investment. The team at Westfield has been focussed on delivering the building to programme, and we have been impressed with the speed at which it has been constructed.

The ceremony was attended by the developers, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, funders Legal & General, senior executives at HMRC amongst numerous other stakeholders.

This is one of a portfolio of 9 similar developments funded by L&G that TFT is monitoring across the country.

Restorative spaces: Bristol

In the third of this series, we look at the English city of contemporary art and great engineering feats: Bristol. Bristol may be known as a pioneer of many green initiatives, but how do they help improve the lives of the people in the city?  The answer is in its use of infrastructure and natural features. 

In 2008, the city pioneered a new Government scheme aiming to double the numbers of cyclists on the streets in the UK within three years[1]. Today, the South West capital boasts a network of cycle routes that connect the city centre to suburban areas, encouraging active Bristolian commuters and giving Bristol the title of England’s first ‘cycling city’.

The impact of the city’s investment is evident in TFT’s Bristol office where more than 50% of our Bristol team cycling or walking to work. This is one of the greatest ways to lower levels of sedentary behaviour, which is linked with physical and mental wellbeing, in particular lower cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality, cancer incidence and all-cause mortality[2].

But what about during the working day?

Being close to restorative space can make all the difference to your wellbeing and productivity at work, and Bristol has good access to many of these. Our office is located on the alluring Queen Square near to the canals and the river Avon, which is not only a green space but a social space too, as the surrounding office workers and residents can enjoy activities from reading in the park to playing volleyball, or exploring the many festivals and events set up on the square – like Harbour Fest, boules tournaments, Bristol Comedy Garden and many more.

Just around the corner from the Square is the vibrant harbourside, with cafes, bars, restaurants and waterfront views. Throughout the summer locals and tourists will dangle their legs over the harbourside walkways and enjoy the views of Bristol’s characteristic rainbow houses and ship masts.  

While green spaces offer venues for activity and relaxation, blue spaces – rivers, lakes, water features – have huge benefits for relieving stress and helping us focus too. It’s a great reason for businesses to consider making their home nearby waterways and allowing access for their occupants to get the most benefit from them.

With the city’s expected growth in population over the next 10 to 15 years, it is paramount that the private and public sector work together to focus even more on designing spaces for wellbeing. A great example is Finzels Reach, a developing area of Bristol’s CBD which saw last year the introduction of a hive of honeybees, supported by developer Cubex who are creating vibrant public spaces to live and work. They also built a Castle Bridge to connect Castle Park to Finzels Reach, allowing and encouraging access to the nearby park.

Bristol has demonstrated that ambitious initiatives can be well-embedded in the city’s structure and that people are healthier and happier when the environment around them is taken care of. Maybe that is why it is the happiest city in the UK![3]

[1] DfT press notice. Bristol appointed UK’s first cycling city £100m package for cycling in 12 towns and cities. 2008.

[2] Celis-Morales CA, Lyall DM, Welsh P, et al. Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2017;357:j1456. doi:10.1136/BMJ.J1456.

[3] Baker, H. Bristol named the happiest city in Britain. Bristol Live. 2019.

Embrace the circular economy to #MoveTheDate of Earth Overshoot Day

Earth Overshoot Day was July 29th this year, which means the global population is now using more natural resources than our planet can renew in a whole year. As of now, that gives us another 154 days of eating into the planet’s ecological overdraft before we start the count down again.

It sounds like an extreme predicament, but the body behind the metric – Global Footprint Network – believes we can act to mitigate it, pushing the date back to December 31st to represent equilibrium with ecosystem regeneration. As a major source of carbon emissions, the built environment has a major role to play in delivering this.

Our normal mode of living, which relies on the consumption and disposal of energy, water and materials, means we are on track to vast resource depletion, wide scale accumulation of solid waste in landfills and waste mountains, pollution across all natural cycles and, of course, global warming and the resultant climate change.

The behaviours driving the change are systemic across our lives and industries, and to common practice in the development and management of buildings.

While government regulations for sustainable construction are running late and still not ready to be issued, leaders in the building industry should be proactive to shape a restorative environment, both socially and ecologically, which fairly consumes and distributes resources.

Some parties are making these steps. But for those who aren’t, how should they proceed?

The circular economy has recently gained momentum among industry professionals and the media as a solution to waste and carbon reduction. Yet our industry is still far from closing the waste gap, because of a deeply ingrained culture of disposal which is hard to transition to a ‘reuse, recycle, repurpose’ model. This is a potentially complex transition, on which TFT is working with the UK Green Building Council to create guidance for the industry to navigate.

The pursuit of a fully circular economy involves safeguarding resources, minimising waste and considering local labour – which requires thinking more broadly beyond traditional silos.

For instance, our industry is well aware of regulations and design guidelines which set targets for energy efficiency and thermal comfort in use. However, the design approach often makes these targets hard to achieve, or even works against them.

One issue is the disproportionate amount of glass often used for tall and medium density buildings, which is not in line with the basic principles of energy conservation and environmental architecture. This design can lead to a higher energy demand to achieve optimal thermal comfort, causing additional carbon emissions in the process.

We need to design for the climate and location the building will be in, allowing enough flexibility to account for climate change adaptation in any future refurbishment. This will help to reduce our buildings’ energy demand and air pollution, with a positive contribution to thermal comfort as well.

Better collaboration and systemic understanding of the drivers and challenges to account for is essential to making the changes required to get our industry closer to circular economy.

TFT is currently involved in supporting our clients to define their climate change impact and reduce it by sustainable practices and procurement and energy efficient measures across the whole life cycle of a building.

We know that lifestyle changes can contribute to reduce global heating but changing our approach to the work we do can take longer and have a far bigger impact. As more developers and investors recognise how sustainable practices can be integrated to the built environment, we can as an industry help #MoveTheDate back to equilibrium, the 31st of December.

Reliance on EPC metrics will hold back better buildings

The Times recently highlighted the carbon load of prominent tall buildings on the London skyline, using data gathered from their Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs). But EPC measurements are often inaccurate and can be a red herring for building performance and sustainability.

Mat Lown, TFT Partner and Head of Sustainability, outlines a more realistic and practical approach to understand building performance.

A recent article in The Times described the ‘CO2 challenge that towers over tall buildings’, by rating key buildings in the London skyline according to emissions, using figures from their energy performance certificates (EPCs). It did so to highlight the need for more action to mitigate carbon load and ultimately environment impact.

While I can’t fault the aims of the piece, its reliance on EPCs is problematic. The EPC has become a widely recognised marker of a building’s energy efficiency, but that doesn’t mean it is a reliable standard. The EPC-based CO2 emissions of the buildings listed in the article could be far greater or lower in reality. In fact, the highest-rated buildings (EPC A+) do not necessarily produce zero carbon in operation.

TFT has examined over 1,000 EPCs in London alone, which have shown the shortcomings of focusing on their ratings in isolation. We found that EPC performance predictions often overlook significant variables, instead making assumptions to ‘standardise’ ratings across different buildings. The result is that EPC certification won’t accurately consider the impact of: actual occupational densities, usage profiles and additional services such as lifts, external lighting and other equipment which isn’t included in its predictions.

EPCs may appear to be a go-to sustainability credential, but these shortcomings mean that EPC adherence must sit alongside a more viable strategy for performance measurement. We believe a more robust approach to sustainability is to assess how buildings perform in use, not just how their designs stack up.

The good news is that more advanced modelling approaches are in use, which will predict a building’s operational performance during design, construction and occupation. Emerging initiatives such as Design for Performance developed by the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) and based on Australian NABERS experience allow owners and occupiers to understand the reality of how the building will use energy on a day-to-day basis in operation.

It means we can more accurately measure and optimise buildings for an occupier’s needs and regulatory demands, minimising energy use and boosting performance.

The EPC will continue to be a regulatory sticking point which owners will need to overcome when selling or letting. But we must also employ realistic and practical measurement to prevent red herring regulation from holding back progress towards a more sustainable built environment.

Restorative spaces: Birmingham

Giulia Mori, Energy & Sustainability Consultant at TFT, continues to talk about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and the role of restorative spaces to help us disconnect and revive away from the working environment.

In this series, we’ll explore the cities in which our TFT offices are based, gauging how each provides restorative space, starting with Birmingham city centre.

Birmingham, the second largest UK city, has a rich working history which grew rapidly after the industrial revolution. It has ancient monuments, conservation areas as well as over a thousand listed buildings, but it is missing something more important to our everyday lives: ample spaces to improve one’s mental and physical wellbeing.

The TFT Birmingham office is located in the middle of the city centre and neighboured by the historic Victoria Square with its pedestrian and cycle access, featuring the Birmingham museum and art gallery and some green space: St Phillip’s Cathedral Square, home to the 18th century Gothic church. There are certainly cultural as well as commercial destinations in the city centre.

There are also areas integrating biophilic features* within the wider city, such as Eastside City Park and the City Centre Gardens, but it is easy to imagine how such a densely built area could do with more public biophilic amenities that might rejuvenate some areas, tempting residents and workers to indulge in a different lunch time walk every day or even encourage them to change their commute. 

The private and the public sector could work together to integrate connected public green space and car free areas to support the wellbeing and activity levels of people living and working in such a central neighbourhood and possibly help mitigating the urban heat island effect and support the local fauna.

One solution is an initiative, such as Wild West End in London, where large property owners are working together to encourage flora and fauna back into central areas of the city by ‘re-wilding’ their rooftops, terraces and other spaces in to better and healthier places for residents, workers and visitors to enjoy. The progress of Wild West End shows that companies need not wait for government intervention to improve spaces, and that one’s own real estate can contribute to a wider impact.

Using supportive biophilic design in our local spaces we can help communities thrive, inside as well as outside the office.

*biophilic features: this includes green features as well as water fountains and use of natural materials such as stone and timber.

TFT chairs RICS Dilapidations Conferences in Scotland and England

TFT Technical Partner Jon Rowling recently chaired the RICS Dilapidations Conference, Scotland. Jon is jointly based in TFT’s Edinburgh and London offices and heads TFT’s Dilapidations, Service Charge and Dispute Resolution service lines nationally. 

The event covered pressing issues for our UK clients, including: comparisons between Scots law and England and Wales; a mock cross-examination which highlighted why one wouldn’t want to get as far as litigation; and accession of movable items and fixtures.

Of the nuanced and challenging issues facing tenants and landlords, of great importance for both sides will be to avoid litigation procedures, which can be done with the right approach to dispute resolution.

Jon authored the go-to text book on these matters: The TFT Purple Book, which offers guidance and reference to make the right decisions through the process. Jon has also authored the RICS Dilapidations Guidance Note and the Dilapidations Dispute Resolution Scheme. He also chaired the London edition of the RICS Dilapidations Conference from 2010 to 2014.  Since then the event has been chaired by TFT Partner Paul Spaven

With Jon Rowling as the service line lead, TFT leads the way in dilapidations across the UK, while in Scotland our Expert Determination and Dispute Resolution offerings are gaining notable traction.

Neil Wotherspoon, TFT Partner and head of the Edinburgh office

Please do get in touch with either Jon or Neil if you would like any assistance with a dilapidations issue.

Combustible material and residential balconies: new Government advice

The Government has urged building owners to remove combustible materials from residential balconies. This follows a number of significant balcony fires in London in the past 12 months and is an acknowledgement that balconies constructed from combustible materials can promote rapid external fire spread.

Timber has become increasingly popular in recent years to provide balcony decking, solar shading and privacy screens. Amendments to the Building Regulations in December 2018 specifically prevent the use of combustible material such as timber for balconies on certain residential buildings over 18m in height, but the new Regulations do not apply retrospectively. However, the latest Government advice relates to existing buildings, particularly residential properties with multiple dwellings and includes low-rise buildings under the 18m threshold.

Building owners need to establish what materials have been used, assess the risks, keep residents informed and advise the fire brigade if urgent concerns exist.

The Government Advice Note states that: “the clearest way to prevent the risk of external fire spread is to remove and replace any combustible material with one that is non-combustible (classified as A1 or A2-s1, d0)”.

TFT has experience of coordinating external wall/fire safety investigations and overseeing remedial works.

Please contact Simon Young MRICS if you have any concerns.

Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

By Giulia Mori – Energy & Sustainability Consultant at TFT

Mental health is coming to the fore as a national concern, and a topic which government and businesses alike are trying to support with new or improved policies, products and services. On top of these initiatives, it’s important to consider how the built environment itself can shape our experience of the world.

Though few people pay close attention to them, many elements of our workplaces can impact our overall wellbeing, enjoyment and performance of work. Increasingly, at TFT we are engaged to measure and improve workplaces with mental and physical health as a priority.

One of the key issues to consider in supporting mental health at work is to understand what ‘restorative spaces’ are within and around the workplace and how they affect us. Research shows that access to these places encourages us to take adequate breaks during the day, restoring energy and concentration levels, so we can go back to our work refreshed.

Restorative spaces are defined by the leading industry wellbeing certification – WELL Building Standard™ v.2 – in which TFT is an accredited partner and assessor. The WELL standard describes the role of restorative spaces in the following way:

M07 – “Restorative spaces […] can help alleviate the negative effects associated with workplace fatigue or mental depletion. Through incorporation of nature, among other restorative elements, these spaces can help relieve stress and mental fatigue, support focus and encourage overall mental well-being. Exposure to plants and other natural elements has been linked with decreased levels of diastolic blood pressure, depression and anxiety; increased attentional capacity; better recovery from job stress; increased psychological well-being”[1]

M01 – “Increasing nature contact at work may offer a simple, population-based approach to enhance workplace health promotion efforts.”[2]

Indoor breakout areas and outdoor terraces that feature natural elements such as plants, flowers and natural materials, can be considered as restorative spaces. Easy access to outdoor amenities such as a nearby park, a lake or river can motivate us to go for stroll during lunch time and have an even bigger impact on our tranquillity at work and on our general wellbeing.

This effect is due to a concept known as biophilia – the innate affinity we have with other forms of life and nature. Biophilia plays a significant role in defining places and spaces for mental health and wellbeing. The presence of natural or man-made biophilic spaces within a reasonable walking distance (≤1km) that are accessible via safe and secure routes is key in supporting mental health both inside and outside the workplace.

Beneficial outdoor spaces can also include public art, museums, food markets and festivals – all of which are highlighted by the International Living Future Institute’s ‘Living Building Challenge’, citing ‘design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit and place appropriate to its function and meaningfully integrate public art.’

Furthermore, the Urban Land Institute and the Centre for Active Design emphasise the importance of providing access to nature, both indoors and outdoors, which in turn facilitates social engagements and healthier lifestyles.

What are some real-life examples of these places? And do you have enough of them near you?

Over the coming weeks, we will be releasing a series of articles showing some of the restorative spaces around TFT’s offices located across the UK.

Stay tuned for our first piece covering our office in Birmingham. Who knows, if you work nearby, you may find some new spots to explore, or share some hidden spaces with us!

[1] Kant I, Beurskens a JHM, Amelsvoort LGPM Van, Swaen GMH. An epidemiological approach to study fatigue in the working population: the Maastricht Cohort Study. 2003:32-39.

[2] Largo-Wight E, Chen WW, Dodd V, Weiler R. Healthy Workplaces : The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health. Public Health Rep. 2011;126:124-131. doi:10.2307/41639273

Flexibility, wellbeing, and social value: three marks of the future office

TFT Partner Alistair Allison chaired the judging panel for the British Council of Offices’ recent South of England and Wales Awards. From a strong pool of entries, Ali and his fellow judges visited and reviewed a selection of the best offices from around the region, which stood out for their forward-thinking designs focused on the needs of occupiers. 

We asked Ali: what stood out from this year’s selection? And what can we expect from leading office designs in the future?

Alistair Allison gives his Judge's Chair speech at the BCO South Awards
Alistair Allison giving his Judge’s Chair speech at the BCO South Awards

In my speech at the BCO Awards, I called out buzz-words like ‘sustainability’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘agile working’ and the like, which we’re all too familiar with but, thankfully, are becoming better understood as part of the client brief and design process, graduating from more superficial marketing claims.

Accordingly, I noticed that the best offices on the judges’ visits delivered tangible benefits through design, improving the experience of occupants and, therefore, the long-term prospects for owners.

While occupational density has remained consistent, design is making offices into places people want to be. Space is increasingly given over from the traditional office floor plate for specific activities, such as group working, hot-desking, concentration, relaxing or even yoga.

Perhaps it’s the rise of new developments, which dominated the entries this year, providing a ‘blank canvas’ for these design decisions. It’s an encouraging sign of a confident market; by comparison, the previous two years featured refurbished or recycled buildings in almost half of the entries. The fact that the ratio has changed this year is a result of where we are in the cycle, but nonetheless reassuring. If these new buildings are enabling the next generation of office development to flourish, I’m excited to see quality and occupant-centric design become more widespread across the sector.

We’re pleased to help our clients embrace these fundamentals too. 400 & 450 Longwater Avenue is a new office development in Green Park, Reading, targeting a WELL accreditation along with an ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating, assuring a high standard of wellbeing for its occupants alongside high sustainable credentials. When complete the scheme will offer a flexible, premium space which is set up for speculative occupiers with all kinds of requirements thanks to an easily-divisible floorplan, and these credentials provide further incentive for businesses which understand that wellbeing and sustainability in the workplace is becoming a minimum requirement for employees and customers alike.  

But what sits beyond these badges or certifications?

One area which shows a great deal of potential for us is social value; the extent to which a place or space contributes positively to its neighbouring environment and community. It’s defined in different ways by different stakeholders, so risks becoming a nebulous and complex subject, but in terms of meeting the challenge of sustainable development it has huge potential. We foresee that as social value is more clearly defined, so occupiers and therefore owners will rank it more highly in their criteria for buildings – in much the same process as wellbeing is seen today, and that sustainability was once seen.

We are hugely excited by this opportunity, and are working with the UKGBC to produce a framework and guidance for the industry which formalises and clarifies the role of social value for a range of applications in the industry. 

In the coming years, I hope these steps will drive more interest in positive social impacts and that ‘the best of the best’ is seen increasingly in terms of what a building adds to the community within its walls and beyond – who knows, maybe we can skip the buzzword stage this time! 

TFT at BCO Conference 2019

BCO Conference 2019 will be held in Copenhagen

The British Council for Offices (BCO) kicks off its annual conference next week (June 5-7) in Copenhagen. We at TFT are proud to support the event and to join its focus on the theme of arbejdsglæde, the Danish word and principle of ‘joy at work’.

Employers are increasingly diversifying their workplaces to represent their culture and to help occupants feel more ‘at home’ while at work. But the built environment can do more to improve the joy and wellbeing of occupants of offices and other kinds of spaces, by improving how we create, manage and inhabit buildings.

Three TFT partners attending the BCO Conference share some of the issues they’ll be interested to discuss in Copenhagen, when it comes to creating and maintaining the office of the future:

Alistair Allison: customer experience becomes building performance

As a recent judging chair for the BCO’s Southern Awards, it’s fantastic to see a more confident marketplace emerging which puts all the familiar buzzwords we’re used to hearing about, at the heart of a client brief. The outcome is attributes like sustainability, wellbeing, flexible working and so on aren’t just for marketing messages, but built in to the office from the outset.

I expect to see this become more mainstream as customer experience becomes widely adopted as a defining criteria for building performance. What could that look like? To start with, a more consultative process where building owner and occupants define these performance metrics together, to make sure the ‘lived-in’ space is well tailored to those who use it.

In our ongoing work for 400 & 450 Longwater Avenue, this speculative development is deliberately designed for flexibility to serve a diverse set of occupier needs, including close working with the building management team to ensure that the building would perform as required for different kinds of occupiers through its life.

Mat Lown: linking better buildings with social value

What would a ‘better workplace’ contribute to the city’s wider agenda? BCO’s 2019 venue in Copenhagen recognises the relationship between buildings, the urban ecosystem and our cultural/social needs – in that spirit, I want to explore the social value buildings can bring not only to their occupants but their neighbours too.

Where to start? Taking a Danish cue, offices can do more to support sustainable transport infrastructure with the appropriate facilities in-house for changing, storage, equipment maintenance and so on, all of which make it easier for travellers to choose to cycle, for instance, rather than get the train or drive.

Otherwise, stimulating greater biodiversity inside and out, understanding that we feel more relaxed and happier with natural greenery around us. Offices in particular could also contribute directly to the city’s clean energy credentials fairly simply, with photo-voltaic panels on a roof supplementing the building’s energy use or even feeding power to the grid.

There are many more opportunities besides – realising them is less a question of building type or function than the priorities of its owner for long-term wellbeing of occupier and local community alike.

Dan Henn: realising sustainable value in legacy buildings

It’s tempting to think that the greatest opportunities for better buildings lie in new development, where we can start from scratch and implement best practice from the outset. But repurposing and refurbishing existing buildings is for many cities a more sustainable means of meeting the needs of modern businesses and the talent they rely on.

There are efficiencies and savings to be found and more scope for alteration than many might believe. Our work on the likes of Wellington House and Pinnacle House in London highlight the scope to grow an existing space and upgrade a building for a better occupier experience. The considerations to do so run the gamut from engineering challenges, conservation and keeping the surrounding area (including businesses and residential communities) running as normal.

Finding the right project management skillset is crucial to navigate these challenges, where collaborative and attentive specialists can make sure the office spaces of the future find a productive home in legacy buildings.