The success of ‘fringe’ talks at OxPropFest last week took us somewhat by surprise.

A more casual type of seminar, held outside the main marquee, where delegates could drop in or out, was a new feature of the annual event. This was in addition to the main talks and debates which were also well-attended.

But when you realise the level of speakers you begin to understand why good numbers came to the three fringe sessions.

Ingo Braun, design director for world-renowned architectural practice NBBJ, spoke about the remarkable Life & Mind Building, currently under construction at Oxford University. And he was only one of three professionals explaining this stunning new scheme, the biggest redevelopment project in the university’s history.

We learned that some of the detail on the exterior represents the exact brainwaves of a student who volunteered her brain to be wired up for the purpose.

Many will have come across the Bee House at Milton Park and, in the second fringe event,  three people central to the conversion of what was a single occupied office building to a shared space, meeting modern requirements for flexibility and collaboration, were able to describe the process and the reasons for decisions they took.

They also offered a Crunchie bar for the closest guess at the number of bee puns in the presentation, although it seemed like more than the 21 they claimed. They may have earned their stripes but clearly they were winging it.

Finally, the ever-present net zero requirement in the building and construction industry was discussed by representatives from Greencore Construction, sustainability charity Bioregional and architect Adrian James.

For a day that began with a thought-provoking speech by Oxfordshire County Council leader, Cllr Liz Leffman, this final act brought about an interesting comparison – in a sense bringing the debate full circle.

In her speech Cllr Leffman talked about the unaffordability of housing in the county. The final debate, centred on the need to make homes zero carbon.

The two talks prompted one of those questions you always think of when it’s too late. If houses in Oxfordshire are too expensive, then making them net zero isn’t going to make them cheaper. It’s going to make them substantially more expensive and require many changes to working practice. How do these two things match up?

The question might have to wait until OxPropFest 2023. Much will doubtless happen before that but it seems unlikely anyone will have a solution beforehand.

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