As our European neighbours slowly start the process of coming out of isolation and parts of the construction sector get back onsite, we want to talk about the green shoots of recovery for the property sector.
Last Monday the Mace Group, one of the largest project and construction management companies in the UK, announced it was re-opening all sites and projects where possible, in accordance with the Construction Council’s standard operating procedures.
It begs the question, is this a signal for the property and construction sector to tentatively start to identify where and what it can start working on again?
Research among some of our Valley Voices has uncovered where some of the pockets of activity are and how companies are beginning to make plans for operating their business in this brave new world.
Common themes are starting to emerge.
Sites may be notionally open, and construction staff in attendance, but construction activity has reduced by at least 30 per cent or more.
The announcement of a lockdown on March 23 forced many sub-contractors, such as British Gypsum, to stop producing and supplying sites. This has now been reversed and contractors are eagerly looking at sub-contractors for a rapid response. Many investors and developers are keen to see projects back on track and programmes maintained.
The Government has asked for the planning process to remain open and move online where possible. This has created new challenges for many local authorities as they grapple with the legal implications of voting online about planning applications, design reviews and various other council decisions but could be the kick start which councils need to improve the planning process.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that small and medium sized developers are searching traditionally expensive areas such as Berkshire and Oxfordshire for ‘new’ opportunities. The ability to move quickly and pay quickly allows residential developers an advantage and helps them identify new opportunities and buy land.
After a mind-altering experience like the coronavirus and the mass exodus from the workplace to the home office, it would be naive to think there will not be any changes to the office environment. However, our view is that the suggested demise of the office, due to COVID-19, is premature.
We are sociable by nature and business will always need that physical interaction with people.
Some changes to the workplace which may occur, are, in fact, already beginning to happen. These include the requirement for two-metre desks, expectations of improved air conditioning units with access to clean air, acceptance that working from home is fine for non-essential work and a re-design of the workplace to encourage collaboration spaces and rapid acceleration of the wellness agenda.
Ironically, this could also encourage companies to look at taking more flexible space in serviced offices to manage growth in the future, rather than take longer leases.
These strange times will doubtless bring a series of unintended consequences for the property, design and construction sectors but we remain confident that the inherent market dynamics are positive.
This strong platform should act as a base for a recovery in the Thames Valley region.
We shall continue to monitor and map the road to recovery for the region over the coming months. Do come back to us with your thoughts by sending us a comment on where you see the green shoots of activity.
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