OAS's inaugural conference launches with a bang

By Paul Norman - Wednesday, October 10, 2018 15:16

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More than 250 leading UK office agents, developers and investors have been at the inaugural Office Agents Society conference at the British Museum in London to discuss the key trends facing the sector and hear from leading speakers and market players focused on the opportunities and threats created by innovation and technology. CoStar News was in attendance.

The OAS has around 900 members across the UK and seeks to raise money for a range of charities selected by the office agency world as well as promote discussion on issues facing the sector. CoStar was proud to be among the sponsors of this year's inaugural conference.

Well-known speakers giving their insights into key topics that are impacting the offices market have included:

  • David Rowan - Futurist and founder of the technology and trends magazine Wired UK who gave a fascinating overview of how technology is reshaping the expectations of the workplace.
  • Andrew Adonis – Chair of the National Infrastructure Committee who gave a punchy review of the short and long-term impact of the Heathrow expansion on the South East.
  • Bronwen Maddox – Economist and Director of the Institute for Government – who has been discussing the UK economy: the outlook in a year of change.
  • Alan Chambers - Motivational speaker who is the former Royal Marine (aka The Arctic Tractor) who led the first unsupported UK expedition from Canada to the geographic North Pole – who has inspiring the audience to consider ‘the only limits are those of Vision’.

CBRE's Matt Willcock, chairman of the OAS, as overall compere began proceedings by saying he was "remarkably proud" to be overseeing the inaugural conference but caveated that by saying there had been an annual conference before in the society's 35 year history but as no one could remember "where it was or when it was" to all intents and purposes today's was the first.

The event will raise money for the OAS’s chosen charity, Small Steps – helping children with disabilities and their families.

David Rowan, a Futurist and founder of Wired magazine, kicked off proceedings with a fascinating keynote speech on how technology and in particular "proptech" is changing so much in the real estate industry, taking in everything from WeWork and AI to blockchain.

He pointed to the number of major concerns using real estate in non traditional ways - from Google's Google X warehouse in Mountain View, which used to be a shopping centre but is now home to its experiments with driverless cars or "Waymo", through to Autodesk's use of a building on Pier 9 in San Francisco as a home for artists and designers and technology experts to experiment with ideas that will inform its investments.

Proptech is reinventing real estate he said in a persuasive presentation that said companies increasingly want space that "creates encounters" for its staff with other people who will challenge and inspire them.

Rowan said the valuation being applied to WeWork at present was only really understandable in the context of its positioning as a data company.

In terms of Blockchain and the huge expectations for its impact on real estate Rowan said there are two crucial elements. Firstly the transparency it will bring and secondly the fact that it will decentralise decision making.

"The point with crypto businesses is the client can trade directly to the client without a central registrar." As such Rowan suggested there was a huge opportunity for real estate advisers who immersed themselves in the subject and understood how it will work.

Equally driverless cars are set to change the "whole nature of where we need to locate" and that will clearly have implications for physical space.

Rowan finished by saying that while all of these trends were pointing to clear change the only unknown as always remained "human nature".

Former transport secretary Andrew Adonis gave an entertaining and passionate speech backing his decision in government to support a third runway at Heathrow as well as Crossrail and HS2.

Helpfully for the South East office agents in attendance he said the transport initiatives would see Slough and Maidenhead become cities while Reading was set to become a mega  city.

Adonis drew a useful chronology of the patterns of objections and final approval that have met expansion of Heathrow, both in terms of new runways and terminals, every step of the way since it was first proposed in 1944 and as such suggested the same thing will happen when further terminals and runways are developed there.

He also said that the "telescoping of the regions with London" and speeding up the time taken to journey between both was the most important government iniative for resolving the UK's unbalanced economy. 

"Train travel to Birmingham will take 29 minutes from London and with the spur to Heathrow at Old Oak Common Birminghan International should be renamed UK Central," Adonis said before saying he had been lobbying Birmingham mayor Andy Street to in fact change its name.

Other highly useful discussions included a CBRE debate - "Forget technoloy, what really counts is the personalisation of the workplace" - and a panel discussion on the threat and opportunity created by innovation in real estate hosted by JLL's James Finnis and including representatives from Aberdeen Standard Investments, Realla and IWG.


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