Last day of conference sees debates on the fragile state of the property sector and future-gazing from the editor of Wired

Last night saw a very enjoyable evening where some good quality time was spent with developer and occupier clients. It was a good opportunity to debate key topics around current and future issues of the offices market, particularly in a social environment where I couldn’t help myself being slightly mischievous among the midst of developers, occupiers and agents - I think we achieved a consensus view on some issues, eventually !

After a very quick croissant and coffee this morning, it was into the first session which started with a great discussion chaired by a rather teasing (and funny) Mike Hussey entitled” “Breakfast with the developers/investors”.

Apart from the rather amusing banter amongst a peer group of developers (Gerald Kaye, Helical; Mark Swetman, Hines; Paul Burgess, British Land; and of course Hussey of Almacantar) there were some really good talking points.

There was general agreement that current issues challenging the market included lack of debt finance (although there is equity in the market) and general poor confidence, Swetman commenting that we need two consecutive quarters of “no bad news”, making reference to recent natural disasters, fragile GDP figures, and the Middle Eastern uprising.

However, the cheer came from Paul Burgess of British Land, who was more optimistic. Whilst his view is that speculative development will be more tightly controlled, there has been about four million ft2 of active demand and let’s not forget that London, in relative global city terms, is actually a very stable place for businesses to live. With the vacancy rate in London likely to fall in future we may also see rental growth, which would of course be welcome.

Other thoughts I took from this session were whether or not traditional office developers will perhaps move into providing residential space, a use that is currently throwing out some very high values. I suspect they will make this move and, indeed, some have already.

Finally, the serious point of solving the conundrum and pulling tensions of sustainability vs MEP resilience and redundancy. A bit like last night, the agents were challenged to mediate and “sort it out”.

After this intriguing start to the day, I moved on to the Next Generation committee, very well chaired by David Williams of Davis Langdon, who debated how we can learn from the past to develop the future. The panel of Next Gen boffins exchanged views with some of the more mature members of the industry and created a lively debate. Of course, there was much that was agreed upon between the two sides but it was good to see the younger guys stand firm on their alternative views (most of which I agreed with – does this mean I’m young?!) and not cave when subjected to experience.

This session played nicely into the final discussion of the day – technological change. Wow, wake up and smell the coffee, or should I say – apples!

It started with an interesting notion from David Rowan, editor of WIRED magazine, which was to forget technology and think about human need. People are “connected” now more than ever and this continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. The smartphone has enjoyed a growth rate more than eight times that of the desktop internet. I heard terms for the first time such as exabyte, petabyte and terabyte, although all my tummy kept telling me was it was time for a lunch-byte!

Every hour that passes by, 16 years of real time Angry Birds is played across the world! (I only found out what Angry Birds was a few weeks ago, clearly I’m not young!)

There was reference to the term “you’re so last year” now being “you’re so last minute” – how things have become faster.

The million dollar question is: how does all of this change the way we work, and how does the way we work change the way we design office buildings?

It would appear that data is the new oil…

As I sit here now in the airport lounge typing this blog, along with many others around me working, texting, tweeting, surfing, poking (in the Facebook sense) it seems an appropriate way to close my two days here.

On to the 2012 conference in Manchester…

Iain Parker is head of offices at Davis Langdon