Sustainable buildings – the competitive advantage?

One of my colleagues, Craig Straw, spoke at an Investment Property Forum conference at Nottingham Trent University a couple of weeks ago. The theme was whether sustainable buildings are gaining a competitive advantage in the current marketplace. I have blogged about the relative value tests on sustainable / non-sustainable buildings here.

My view was – and still is – that there is no visible or tangible price differential at the moment. If there is it is marginal. The latest IPD study published last week suggests that environmentally sustainable properties have underperformed their less “green” counterparts by 4% since the first quarter of 2008. The IPD UK Sustainability Property Index (ISPI) reveals that for the properties examined in the 11 quarters to Q3 2010, “less” sustainable properties delivered a cumulative total return of -10.8%, compared with -14.9% for more sustainable properties.

But the conference suggested a slightly different ‘take’ – that sustainable buildings have a competitive advantage over other properties. It seems that there may be some evidence that sustainable buildings might be emerging as more attractive. It is fair to say that they will have more protection against future obsolescence. Provided they differentiate green bling and truly sustainable features.

My personal view is that if this is a trend then this will start to feed through to values. But valuers do look back (we don’t ‘make’ a market – we just report on what is has done) and this will take some time to drip feed through.

My guess – as I pointed out at the HS2 conference a few weeks ago, is that it is the next generation (our kids and theirs) will start to drive this green agenda.

And perhaps the next generation are now getting into management / ownership positions where they can influence buying decisions.

What is also clear though is that building owners are having to find ways of making their property more attractive in a difficult market. Having green credentials is one of those factors which may well be able to help…

The password nightmare

In this digital world we live in we seem to need a password for everything – Bank, work stuff and web sites. And keeping track of the passwords is a nightmare.

Most people are fairly predictable in their choice – hackers have a league table:


It is estimated that the top two represent approximately 5% of all passwords!

And last week one of our locally based surveying firms had their website database hacked – in itself no good thing. But worse still was that it was posted on the internet. The database dumped on the web contained email addresses and passwords – and yes some were predictable. Some were ‘interesting’ and others potentially embarrassing….

My assistant was horrified when I asked her the meaning of her password. She spent the next few hours changing all of her passwords – she used the same one for lots of things!

I came across the listing through a simple Google search (it has now been removed), but clearly no one can know who has downloaded a copy (I have destroyed the copy I had).

This is a salutary lesson to us all. I took no pleasure in telling the firm concerned that they had a security breach (even if they think I did). They told me not to worry as they had a plan in place – I wasn’t worried, they didn’t have my password!

It could happen to any of us. It is, as they said in their email to everyone on Friday, a sign of the world we live in. There are some people out their who regard this as a game. They get a kick out of breaking a code. You have to hope there was no ulterior motive in using passwords for illegal purposes.

But the real lesson here is to be very careful about the passwords you use! And who you give them to…

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business Tagged Data Protection, database, , hacked, ICO, Passwords

When buildings go wrong…

My good friends at The University of Nottingham’s Architecture Department were really impressed with some of the buildings we saw in Shanghai. I met them in China on my trip back in August. But they were less so with this one…


It seems that someone (who has no doubt run off) decided to build a car park adjacent this block of apartments. When they dug down they placed the spoil from the digging around the other side of the building. This somewhat spoiled the balance of things and the building just toppled over. Fortunately there were no buildings adjacent (which is unusual in China!) so it didn’t hit anything.

There could have so easily been a domino effect.

Apparently one person died when the building toppled, but it looks as though the building wasn’t quite finished. It is amazing that so much of it is still intact – notably the glass in the windows. You really do have to double take when you fist see the photograph.

I should imagine that the equivalent of the Health & Safety Executive might have had something to say. The only thing I wonder about is whether they have guns? I think they might decide on “fault” and ask questions later…

We were wondering in the office if you could just prop it back up? A bit of pointing of those cracks and all should look as good as new? Alternatively leave it as it is – and regard it as a giant bungalow – there won’t be much need for the lifts?

A very Green supercar (sort of)

I learned two phrases a couple of weeks ago. Firstly ‘crunchies’ and secondly ‘mamil’s’. Neither I had heard before.

A proper Maserati!

The first is a reference to the ‘Crunchy Granola’ eating middle classes who think it trendy to change their lifestyle to ease our impact of the environment. Thus a ‘crunchy’ will give up a car to travel by bike. Or perhaps swim the channel rather than go by ferry?

Then there’s the ‘Mamil’ – which is a similarly modern phenomena. Apparently it is a ‘middle aged man in lycra’. This is usually for bike riding purposes apparently.

Hmmm. I like my Honey and Granola Greek yoghurt in the morning at Starbucks – and you need lycra kit on my road bike – otherwise you don’t go very fast?

Then I spotted a new Maserati at the weekend – one of my favourite Italian cars. But this is not a car – a bike. The Montante – in a limited edition of 200 and sporting fixed gears, red leather (as used in the car) for the handlebars, saddle and toe straps. Painted in a wine colour and with disc brakes It looks superb. Much like the car range.

The only small issue is the price tag – £2,500. Assuming you can actually get one as demand is expected to outstrip supply.

But you would look good in Lycra on it?

And like a supercar it might best live inside until the sun is out – which I am guessing will be next May at the earliest!

The new citizen office

I am no expert on office furniture, but do know one particular ‘name’ – Vitra. They have a fantastic showroom in New Yorks Meatpacking District which is well worth a visit.

A very cool Vitra Sofa in New York

Vitra’s furniture is amazing. It has real Italian style in my view despite being a Swiss company. It has a price tag to match but the quality of the kit is palpable.

But what caught my eye in the week was they they have launched a new concept – the Citizen Office. You can read all about it here.

I sat in on a discussion a few weeks ago when we were talking about the way offices ‘work’. I blogged about some of the issues we spoke about here.

Vitra really are at the forefront of office design and working practices. They have spotted that employees work better in comfortable surroundings. Younger workers are wanting a ‘cool’ environment in which to work. it needs to be bright, spacious and modern. It has to encourage collaborative working – an environment where great ideas can be teased out and encouraged.

The physical structure of the office is based around a marketplace – much like a town – where people come together and ‘trade’ (ideas not goods). This is then surrounded by different forms of workstations – like neighbourhoods around the town. The whole environment is designed to motivate people. There are different forms of furniture which allow you to work whilst standing, sitting or lounging.

Work does comprise formal and informal working and this new office idea tries to encapsulate this.

The office is changing – we are becoming a knowledge based society and we will need to move with the times. This seems to be a natural step along the way. They also look really cool places to work?

Nottingham Contemporary – take 5

I have been to see the British Art Show 7 at Nottingham Contemporary twice in the last week. Firstly, at the weekend – which included a trip to the fantastic cafe. But then on Tuesday evening with the Invest in Nottingham Club. My firm are members.

a little piece of the Charles Avery piece

We were given a special tour on Tuesday evening by Alex Farquharson – the Director. It was great to hear his enthusiasm for the place. He even likes the outside (I think it is a marmite building!)

The show is quite interesting for the The Contemporary as it is curated by The Hayward Gallery – not by the in house team. So they have nothing to do with the art displayed. The Curators are Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom Morton and they have chosen this year’s theme to be “In the Days of the Comet”, in emulation of H.G. Well’s 1906 novel. is held every five years and tours the UK. From Nottingham it goes to London, then Glasgow and finally, Plymouth. So we had the honour of the opening of the show. Another coup for Nottingham.

The Gallery was quite busy on Sunday morning which was reassuring – on Tuesday night it was packed with the Great and The Good from Nottingham.

But what of the art?

Well, I have to be honest and say that this is probably my least favourite exhibition to date. Some of the installations are quite challenging – which you need to see to judge for yourself.

But – I loved the Charles Avery pen and wash piece “Egg Eats Egret”. The detail is brilliant and you could look at it for hours – and see different things each time. I love the perfection of the building in the piece and the various characters.

I struggled with Karla Black’s ‘pile of soil’ – I just didn’t get it. Even after Alex had explained it to me…

We really are lucky to have The Contemporary – as I blogged last week it does give Nottingham profile. You don’t have to love the art all of the time. Nor, in my case, the building. But we should as a City support it – it does nothing but good…

Bad news for The Meadows in Nottingham

Yesterday it was announced that the long term scheme to redevelop The Meadows in Nottingham had come off the rails.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said it will now only fund housing PFI schemes that are under contract. And Nottingham isn’t.

Avant guard architecture in the Meadows courtesy Julian Marsh

Back in 2009 Nottingham City Council had a £200m PFI credit approved for the scheme – but had to prepare a Business Case. It seems that the Business Case has fallen at the next hurdle. In the post Comprehensive Spending Review, perhaps this is not surprising.

It is not good for The Meadows though – which needs some intervention. The scheme I saw involved redesigning Street layouts and replacing some of the poorer quality housing with new family stock. One of my clients Blueprint has an excellent scheme there and I blogged previously about Julian Marsh’s excellent home – pictured above. Both of these developments really were catalysts to the wider regeneration project.

It was a very long term plan – and one that I am sure will be revisited in less austere times.

As I heard this news I was actually in Derby for the launch of Derby’s £10m regeneration fund. It was launched at Derby College’s Roundhouse Scheme. I had never been inside – but had seen some images as the building has won various awards – regionally and nationally. And it is not difficult to see why. It is a fantastic regeneration scheme – bringing old disused railway buildings back into use. The treatment of the buildings is just brilliant. I loved it.

I was thinking of the lost opportunity in Nottingham at Castle College on Maid Marian Way – which I remain involved in. We missed the window of opportunity from the then LSC. It was no one’s fault – although the Nottingham Planners could have been more helpful. But the point is that this was a missed opportunity.

The lessons are easy afterwards – grab the money when you can – and make sure the processes are not lengthy! I am not suggesting the Meadows Team could have gone quicker – they probably couldn’t, but these slugs of cash are only going to be there for the short term at the moment. Sadly, it looks like Nottingham has missed out – again….

The Beatles on itunes

So the big announcement last week was that The Beatles were now available on itunes. I guessed wrong on my blog. My colleague blogged about it here.

Apple and Apple Corps / The Beatles are at one. Lennon would be proud – although it has taken a while to give peace a chance. Evidently Steve Jobs has been after the Beatles back-library on itunes since it started in 2003.

But at what price. Most of the albums are £10.99 – far more than I would pay for a CD. The acid test – The Beatles Box Set. £125 on itunes and £119.99 on Amazon? Sure you get some additional material, but you also get fairly dross sounding 256 bit compressed sounds. This is on top of the 40 year old recordings and the inherent crackle.

Earlier this year Apple passed the 10 billion downloads mark – so I can only assume that people are happy to buy sub-standard sounding seriously expensive tracks which you can only share on limited computers?

Alternatively – buy the CD’s – rip them at lossless quality (between four and six times better) and get to keep a back up – just in case your laptop / computer walks or passes away… Oh, and there’s no limit on how many computers you can install on? I blogged about this nearly a year ago here.

As the croupier in Casino Royale says to James Bond, “The choice is yours”…

I know what I would do. Except I am not in a rush to buy 250 Beatles tracks!

Customer service – some good stuff

In the last week or so I have been reading blogs about customer service and the changing market. My colleague Simon Dare blogged here about great customer service he had been given at Nando’s. And then my mate John Lyle blogged about the power of the internet and I shamelessly steal one of his quotes:

Products and services rise from mediocrity by being exceptional, by being differentiated and by being well branded.

It was my turn last week to get exceptional customer service.

I was in that great ‘boys’ shop – Maplin. It’s a shop where you see no women and I have no idea why. It is just brilliant – full of stuff you don’t need, but do want.

I needed a special computer tool kit – the reason why is another story. Suffice to say that my trusty macbook pro needed work. The tools required to perform an operation on this machine are not your average ‘philips’ screwdriver!

I picked up a kit which seemed to have all the minute tools I required and promptly went to the till. The young lad (not girl) on the till asked which of the tools I needed in the kit. I told him. He promptly suggested that there was another kit that contained the tools – but was on offer. So my £22 kit could be swapped for another – which would do the job. Price? £4.99.

I guess he spotted I wasn’t a geek, but he didn’t need to do this. I am not sure he was supposed to, but he clearly just had a desire to be helpful.

This is what John calls ‘exceptional service’. Not ‘good’, ‘exceptional’.

Of course, you will always go back to this sort of experience. And next time I might buy one of those radio controlled helicopters…

Squeeze – in Nottingham

My wife reminded me that on our way to Squeeze on Friday night that the last time she saw them was at the Theatre Royal (it was on 2 June 1981)… nearly thirty years ago…

I have seen them several times since – in Cannes and at the Isle of Wight Festival. And Glen Tilbrook played on the Nottingham Tram in October 2005… We were there too.

They even had special guests in the form of Ian Broudie and The Lightening Seeds. They played a 45 minute set with quite a few tracks from Jollification. They sounded pretty good…

But the real stars of the show are the Lennon and McCartney songwriters of the late 1970′s and 80′s – Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook’s Squeeze. They played quite a bit of new stuff – but it’s the old stuff I love – Black Coffee in Bed, Tempted, Up the Junction, Cool for Cats, Hourglass and my favourite – Pulling Mussels. The lyrics are just sublime… take Up the Junction…

I got a job with Stanley
He said I’d come in handy
And started me on Monday
So I had a bath on Sunday….

I do know quite a lot of these lyrics by heart – signs of a mis-spent youth. It’s a shame they didn’t do an ‘O’ level in Squeeze music – that would have been an easy A*

The only slight issue I had was that the audience was a bit, er, old?

There was no dancing in our upper tier – the best we got was a sort of swaying in our comfy seats. The gentleman behind me had a suit and tie on. If felt a little under-dressed in my Abercrombie hoodie!