TECHNOLOGY DELIVERS CHANGE IN PROPERTY AND CONSTRUCTION PRACTICES
There is no doubt that the adoption of PropTech has grown during 2018. Vicky Green, associate director in Trident’s Leeds office, explains: “Mobile data capture software is instrumental to Trident’s work today. On site, we access data efficiently using hand-held technology which we then upload to reporting software, ensuring that a consistent structure is followed and the risk of error is substantially reduced.
“Our data capture software collects and compares data with predefined element lists and produces tailored outputs to suit reporting requirements, prioritising expenditure over a specified period. Due to the element grades being consistent and predefined, the software allows for more intelligent decisions to be made across portfolios, often resulting in significant cost savings. Data capture software also allows for rapid data analysis and document preparation, resulting in a faster turnaround.
“In addition to increasing efficiencies, this means of reporting enables a greater understanding of the issues and the ability to isolate elements, sub elements, grades or priorities. It allows a building owner or manager to group costs by region or across their entire portfolio, creating greater efficiencies and to budget and prioritise expenditure more effectively and to put in place larger scale programmes of work. Furthermore, the ability for companies to analyse the cost of maintenance versus capital expenditure creates greater transparency in budgeting, as well as bringing to light the efficiency of their current maintenance suppliers/contracts.”
So where will the technology take us next? Vicky says: “We are also exploring the use of 3D photography, which enables various sets of data to be linked to a 3D format and as such, links planned preventative maintenance (PPM) to BIM. 3D cameras have substantial benefits. Take working at height, for example. Accessing rooflines, fascias and guttering is a perpetual problem for many property maintenance professionals. Scaffolding and cherry-pickers can be prohibitively expensive and even then are sometimes unsuitable.
”Faced with exactly this dilemma, we recently carried out a series of PPM surveys for a client with unusually remote and inaccessible property assets but were able to capture all of the information using drone technology. Drones have the substantial benefit of not only providing an immediate, cost effective solution, but can photograph remote locations with virtually no disruption.
“As a result of data provision through images, cloud surveys and more accurate surveying of existing buildings, BIM – once the province of just building designers – is now increasingly links to both PPM and facilities management, causing efficiencies for each. The benefits of BIM are unparalleled, particularly when a substantial survey needs to be undertaken while the building remains occupied.
“And as the Internet of Things becomes more widely used it is inevitable that a building’s plant will communicate directly into PPM reporting and scheduling.
“In the last year alone we have seen considerable change in the way in which building consultancy can benefit from technology and we anticipate many more positive changes in the years ahead.”
Rights of light
There is no doubt that a right to light has become of increasing importance. This was exacerbated following the publication of the Government’s revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in July, which states that, “When considering applications for housing, authorities should take a flexible approach in applying policies or guidance relating to daylight and sunlight, where they would otherwise inhibit making efficient use of a site.”
It is no coincidence that Trident created a new Rights of Light team in 2018. The team is led by Dan Wade, director in Trident’s London office, who comments, “The need for the new service line follows evolving case law and changes to planning policy (both nationally and locally). The main issue today is building tall in city centres. What does this mean for existing affected neighbours and future developers and investors? How will they all stand together? Cooperation and clear communication are key but that’s just the basics. Rights of light assessments get into the finer detail and are something that Trident now deals with.”
So, how is it done? “Technology plays a vital part in measuring impact. The future for this service will incorporate PropTech which makes each job more efficient, more accurate and easier to understand. In fact, modern technology methods such as radiance assessments are ahead of those required in current legislation.
“As this technology evolves and increasingly integrates with technology such as BIM, I can see it used to better visualise complex data. Working alongside other service lines, such as architecture and project management, we can identify issues in the design stage to allow architects to incorporate design features to combat these issues. This increases our ability to deliver projects on time and on budget too. The use of technology allows us to react to last minute changes and it can speed up what is a complicated process.”
The future of office design
Architects and designers are repeatedly tasked with generating innovative office designs to tempt an evolving and increasingly diverse workforce. Kim Benam, associate director in Trident’s London office explains: “Increasingly, we are asked to future-proof offices for a new generation of workers. Both Cat A and Cat B design are evolving to suit new ways of working by maximising flexibility and providing multiple ways of occupying workspaces. And as the debate between open and cellular offices continues, so does the research. Desk modules are rapidly reducing in size with shared storage zones, but designs need to be mindful of a human’s need for personal space and privacy. To combat this, soft zones, private booths and even restorative spaces to support people’s cognitive health are becoming key features of office design. This is balanced with areas for teams to congregate and to generate social interaction. The freedom for workers to roam the office to find the right balance of both social and private time, and even preferred room temperature, is also embraced in current workplace trends.”
A multi-disciplinary approach to building consultancy
With the recent addition of Architecture and Rights of Light to the Trident offer, the company now provides a truly multi-disciplinary building consultancy practice. Trevor Dowd, executive director in Trident’s London office comments on the impact: “In offering the full complement of building consultancy services, we are able to deliver a more efficient offer. Our continued and often innovative use of PropTech has helped to facilitate this, and I believe it is the main reason why each Trident office has seen positive results this year despite the political and economic uncertainties.”
CHANGING CIRCUMSTANCES AFFECTING THE PROPERTY AND CONSTRUCTION SECTORS
The impact of Grenfell
The fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017 sent shock waves across all corners of society and continues to drive a regulatory, technical and culture transformation in the construction industry.
There are many long term positive impacts for the industry, as Keith Richards, executive director in Trident’s Leeds office explains: ”Grenfell will continue to drive regulatory change, positively addressing the many years of lowering standards in construction design. The cost-driven attitude to risk, which was exacerbated by deregulation, must now change. I suspect that the issues around external cladding will extend more into the private sector and beyond housing in the coming year.”
Another result of the Grenfell Tower fire is the increased scrutiny that has fallen on procurement practices and value engineering. Terry Cook, executive director in Trident’s London office says, “’Value engineering’ has had some bad press. But responsible cost management and cost control is absolutely not about diminishing a building’s performance. Safety is never compromised when this is done well. With every month come new innovations, new technical guidance and new published best practice. Some innovations are good, some still need time to prove themselves. Keeping up-to-date with that is a full-time job, and it undoubtedly changes the way certain systems, products and materials are sourced. Similarly, lower priced products don’t necessary equal a less able product – after all, higher priced products can fail fire tests too.
“While we’re committed to getting the best price for a client, we will never compromise on safety. Following the Hackitt Review, we made the decision to ban the use of any desktop fire safety studies to prove the suitability of a product or system. We will only specify rigorously tested and proven non-combustible materials for use on refurbished and new buildings. And we will reintroduce a ‘clerk of works’ type service on high risk projects wherever possible to try and ensure a much higher standard of installation and a smarter, faster, better return on investment. During 2019, I hope that building regulations are made clearer and more robust. This will stop the race to the bottom and hopefully prevent false claims about equivalence.”
There is no doubt that Brexit has had a negative impact on the property and construction market. As Darren Owen, director in Trident’s Birmingham office, explains, “Brexit has created continued uncertainty which means that people are more reluctant to make big decisions. Although we have seen some speculative development in Birmingham, there is less of it and fewer companies are taking risks.”
Keith Richards, executive director in Trident’s Leeds office, adds, ”We have seen a slowdown in investment by international investors in the UK due to uncertainty about our economic future. The uncertainty created by Brexit may yet draw us into a significant downturn – some forecasts are quite alarming, to say the least. The uncertainty this has created will be the worst aspect to 2019, possibly the next five years.”
Daniel Brooks-Dowsett, director in Trident’s Bristol office, warns that, “If we have a no-deal Brexit we’re not bound by EU law so there will be deregulation. Additionally, a huge amount of construction materials are imported from mainland Europe and any trade tariffs will put construction costs up. This could be compounded by longer delivery times for labour and materials.”
Roger Watts, executive director in Trident’s London office identifies some positive results of Brexit: “As sterling is likely to continue to drop, international investors can get more for their money, thereby making the UK property market more attractive, resulting in more surveys and acquisition work for Trident, and some excellent opportunities for our clients.”
For Freddie Millar, director in Trident’s Dublin office, Brexit has very little negative impact. His most pressing concern relates to the relatively buoyant economy: the difficulty in finding staff for a growing sector. “Recruitment is particularly difficult in a sector which is growing exponentially. That, and trying to drive around Dublin now that the economy is booming again is tough, worse now than during the Celtic Tiger times.”
And Roger Watts, executive director in Trident’s London office looks forward to the UK experiencing a similar problem: ”If Brexit gets resolved, there will be a positive bounce and those who are sitting on their hands at present they will want to get on.”
With a final word on Brexit, Trevor Dowd, executive director in Trident’s London office, suggests there may be a light at the end of the tunnel: “The slowdown in the industry should not be of recessionary proportions unless a no-deal scenario occurs. Hopefully, any uncertainty can be removed in the first quarter of the financial year and we can all get used to the new status quo and a steady level of growth.”
Crisis in recruitment
Several Trident offices are impacted by recruitment issues, which, it is feared, will only worsen following Brexit.
Freddie Millar, director of Trident’s Dublin office comments, “Nearly everyone I speak to at a professional level is looking for trained professional staff, as well as tradespeople. Certainly, within the cities, it is becoming more difficult for staff to live close to their place of employment and while remote working is increasing, it is not a viable option for some construction workers.”
Darron Owen, director in Trident’s Birmingham office adds, “One of the negatives associated with Brexit is that there is likely to be an exodus of workers. This will further affect the skilled workers base, to the loss of the property and construction industry.”
Andrew Crosher was recently appointed to run Trident’s West London office. He says, “Recruitment is a real issue. The workforce of most traditional firms of surveyors is typically aged over 50 and there are just not enough future surveyors coming out of university. Trident is a younger business, but we still want to win the best talent.
“Furthermore, looking broadly across the industry – from architects and engineers to construction workers – many are from elsewhere in Europe and there is a reduction in the number of people coming to the UK as a result of Brexit. London, which was possibly the most popular city in the world, is just not as attractive during this uncertainty.
“Brexit aside, the industry needs to do more to push the diversity agenda. And while the impact of Artificial Intelligence has not (and may not) be a serious threat for specific sectors, the concern that certain surveying jobs may cease to exist may well be having an impact on graduate recruitment. Our approach is to integrate the most powerful technologies into our working lives here at Trident, and we believe that this will create an exciting and dynamic environment to attract new recruits.”
Under the terms of the Paris Agreement the UK is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80%. The latest climate talks in Poland have also established a new international climate regime under which all countries will have to report their emissions – and progress in cutting them – every two years from 2024. As a result, sustainability will rise up the industry agenda in 2019.
Daniel Brooks-Dowsett, director in Trident’s Bristol office, explains: “The impact of environmental measures can no longer be viewed in isolation: the way that green building design and fit-out interacts with policy, finance, tenant relations, staff wellbeing and broader community issues defines ‘good’ environmental management of a building today.
“Research carried out among European real estate industry professionals reveals that over three-quarters of commercial buildings have a sustainability strategy, which is itself increasingly interlinked with business objectives. These include preventing obsolescence, exploiting tax incentives and simply creating a ‘quality building’ which has market appeal. Buildings lacking such a strategy are viewed by many as an investment risk.”
The introduction of Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) in April 2018 was a step forward. The standards mean that landlords cannot renew existing leases or sign new leases if a building has an energy performance certificate with a rating lower than an ‘E’. Therefore the refurbishment of an existing building must now meet rigorous and legally-enforced minimum energy efficiency standards.
Resistance to the new regulations – in the form of apathy or even defiance – is widespread, according to some sources. So will EPCs prove to be a benefit? Daniel Brooks-Dowsett says, “We believe so. Far from being a pointless box-ticking exercise, EPCs are an extremely useful tool for informing a property owner or manager of their building’s estimated energy use, carbon dioxide emissions, fuel costs, energy performance and environmental impact. An EPC assessment looks at four categories of data – HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning), thermal elements, lighting, windows and building controls – and in doing so it provides the necessary information to improve a building’s performance.”
The impact of the EPC legislation on the industry is not yet clear. As Daniel Brooks-Dowsett says, “The passage of time since the legislation came into force earlier this year hasn’t been enough to gauge the impact. But, in 2019 MEES are likely to become more relevant because they will apply to any landlord wishing to find a new tenant for a commercial property.”
Health and wellbeing considerations in commercial development
There are now more green rating systems than ever before – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and Green Star Communities. More recently, the WELL Standard has joined that list, and looks set to increase in popularity.
David Juniper, director in Trident’s London office comments, “Agents and tenants are engrossed in the health and wellbeing culture that’s taken our lifestyles by storm. Everyone wants a work environment that delivers more than a desk and basic facilities. Our clients are increasingly asking for communal areas to deliver facilities such as gyms, yoga studios, communal hot desks and breakout zones, pop-up stalls, and showers.
“Clients and their tenants also want to understand how a building performs and its sustainability benefits. They want energy efficiency, responsibly-sourced materials and low-carbon emissions. It’s a positive stance to take and one we’re keen to deliver. And it’s not just our clients who have sustainability on their mind: it’s a goal for all our projects and the reason we are a member of the UK Green Building Council. With standards such as WELL on the rise, I see more call for projects reaching this high standard as the norm in the future. Professionals such as human resource directors are getting more involved as the criteria for buildings has changed.”
Daniel Brooks-Dowsett, director in Trident’s Bristol office adds: “Since its launch in 2014, the WELL Building Standard has attracted more than 850 projects, encompassing over 158 million square feet and applying across 33 countries. Most building owners, managers and users would agree that a building that puts health and wellness at the centre of design and results in more productive spaces is something to be proud of: an innovative and exciting project with the potential to win prizes and press coverage.
“So far, take-up across the UK has been slow but we expect to see this change gradually as the benefits of WELL are demonstrated to the wider market – not only the potential to create a healthy and happy workforce, but the potential to attract premium rents. And by assessing a building’s impact not only on the environment but on its users, WELL has in a way that LEED and BREEAM do not.”