Changing demands for building requirements post COVID-19 (B1-C3 use classes) Roy Fairgrieve

Some common questions and answers regarding changing demands for building requirements in a post COVID-19 world.

How quickly will new housing configurations take hold to suit a COVID environment?

The PRS sector is likely to lead the way in updating current design to meet with tenants’ potential needs and demands. The BTR sector will then follow suit. There will be some future proofing on our day to day living to protect against second waves and regional spikes; necessary updates could be from simple keyless entry points to avoid contamination to more significant changes to building configurations. A strategy therefore needs to be reviewed in favour of a more people centric proposition in what could be a fiercely competitive marketplace in the fast churn PRS.

Do you think demand will be sustainable once people return to normality and the COVID era becomes a distant memory?

Professor Peter Piot who is an SME and Director of The London Centre Hygiene and Tropical Diseases, tells us that we are “sailing as we are leaning” with COVID-19. The footprint it has left across the world means that we’ll see adjustments in place for a long time. One-way systems in buildings and public areas have already been implemented, to move out of the crisis (and stay out); accepting these changes and recognising new demands will be important. Even in a COVID free area, we are unlikely to revert back to a how things were, instead, similar measures will be in place, they’ll just become smarter and more efficient over time.

Other likely demands include more space and greater adaptability with features like flexible wall positions which can be implemented relatively quickly through MMC and the use of SILKA products. In terms of changes to living arrangements many in house shares or small HMOs may be re-thinking their options. There will be demand for small city centre apartments with more people considering the practical importance of self-contained units. The main challenge will be affordability and it will be interesting to see if there is a way to increase options.

Taking into account other pre-COVID targets around sustainable building, how will developers cope with the pressures of new demands and these pre-COVID changes?

Covid-19 is a catalyst for the much-needed changes and innovation to the Industry. This acceleration of the disruptive change is already underway in the Construction Industry and provides an ideal opportunity for our Government to look at engaging an Economic Regeneration Measure which would kick start the economy; at the same time, we are able to promote Health, Wellbeing and Creativity. These positive changes can transform our Cities and Towns, with customer centric living, improved connectivity, green-sustainable cohesive environments and a social housing reform programme which many now also provide a Key Worker sector as its own Asset Class.

What do you think the biggest COVID footprint will be on the housing market in terms of design?  

There has already been a drive for awareness to consider Physical & Mental Health and Wellbeing. Public Health England are understood to be preparing a study on this to be highlighted sooner in the Development Lifecycle with submission to Government in the Autumn. The top down profit over people model needs to shift to be more customer centric and holistic. This seems to be evident already with some operators in the BTR Sector like Andrew Southerns’ Soho based Group, Southern Grove which has added a Sky Bar on their Sheffield development to provide additional space to residents. Other inclusions in similar properties are a chilled delivery room for online food orders to be left and brass/copper touch pads and door handles which are naturally antimicrobial. Socially, there is also a shift with communal spaces incorporated for health and well-being activities including yoga and meditation.

During a webinar hosted by Howard Kennedy LLP a poll was taken on how important well-being was considered by investors, shareholders and lenders (especially post COVID). The findings demonstrated that 85% were already convinced or were of the opinion that it would be an important factor moving forwards.

How realistic do you think it will be for offices to open up out of city centres?

To support the shift of WFH employees, there could be a new need for Hub (Support) Office space and as such a further need for a smaller Head Office space. This would then provide a consequential churn of PDR availability of B1 to C3 conversions, especially as the new PDR conditions allow for additional floors. The consideration then for Stakeholders will be the significant added value and cost saving of a replacement new building using MMC. This could be an area of substantial growth potential for the UK, with a speed of delivery rivalling RC Construction and even Timber-frame on for the delivery of the structural envelope, elements which provide a significant cost and time saving. Adding in MMC can alter the construction programme’s critical path, enabling a weather tight stage weeks ahead of normal. Using a method of MMC called i-Form, this becomes a game changer and maintains 100% productivity on site at 200% quicker than traditional methods of construction.

Do you think remote working will take hold long term?

A study by McKinsey highlighted that of the 8m people who were working from home, 80% said that they are enjoying it, 41% said that they are more productive whilst 28% said that they were equally as productive. Not only has the change had a positive impact on individuals but, long term, some business will now have greater flexibility in terms of their recruitment process with the freedom to employ individuals that are not constrained by location; more companies may therefore find that they have access to a greater talent pool. Changes can also be made to boost workforce productivity through innovative strategies, work can be done to maintain a strong culture and there will be huge benefits in terms of reduced office costs. Many organisations had encouraged a more flexible working environment before this event and those who evolve sooner going forwards will benefit first. The Office era is not over, it’s just changing.

Which type of office space will be hit the hardest?

Tight space co-share will have been hardest hit fundamentally by the nature of the business model. With adaptation to provide Covid 19 safeguards, this offering works again, albeit with very different levels of revenue, so it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

Which will be the quickest to recover?   

The quickest to adapt. Being agile is the new norm.


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