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BCO conference: controversy reigns


One of the more controversial streams at the Conference — perhaps surprisingly — was the one presenting the revised BCO Standards Specification [correct name?].

Specification 2000 goes significantly further than earlier versions. It is hard for the layman to imagine such an apparently dry topic provoking heated debate.

Unlike earlier versions, which dealt largely with preventing developers over-specifying, it explicitly incorporates sections dealing with end-user requirements, including the brief, key variables, procurement and building completion.

It also includes new performance criteria, including sustainability, changing work styles, design variables, value and the European dimension.

Tim Battle, partner at Rybka Battle and editor of the guide says: 'The average delegate saw the new guide and said: "this is an improvement."' He argues that its quality is higher and it is easier to use.

'It is the result of over 50 people working very hard for months,' he says. But he notes 'rumblings in the background' saying that the earlier version was fine and that the new guide is too all-embracing. Ron German of Stanhope, saying that the new elements should not be included in a specification guide or Simon Harris of BH2, suggesting it has been dumbed-down with too many add-ons indicate the concerns.

Dissenters, argues Battle, should realise that the BCO has changed. 'There are now 600 members. There were 200 when the original was drawn up. We've got to represent a broad constituency,' he says.

He argues that debate should be on the good things. 'It covers areas not covered before, with a direct focus on the needs of occupiers,' he says, 'That makes joined-up thinking doesn't it?' But he adds 'We need to spend time responding to criticisms.'

He says that the guide is incredibly rich with cross-referencing that was not there before — enabled by the fact that, from September it will, be available on the World Wide Web. It will have hyperlinks not only to related parts of the guide, but potentially to papers by BCO members discussing different aspects of it.

The Web presence prompted another source of controversy for delegates, however. The tie-up with Construction Plus [spelling?] allows advertising to be linked to the guide.

Delegates, says Battle, showed some wariness at the idea and says 'It has to be handled very carefully, but is potentially an invaluable source of income for the BCO.' But he believes the caution should be noted: 'We're a democratic organisation,' he says.

The Specification will also be reviewed annually from now on, with revisions presented at Annual Conference time. Battle argues that revisions must be handled with care and suggests that there should always be a compelling reason to change.

That could make for feisty debate next year.


Are you a hedgehog or a fox? This is the question posed by Clem Sunter, chair of corporate affairs at South Africa's Anglo-American Corporation at the start of the seminar stream 'Global Perspectives' at the BCO Conference.

Alistair Collins, of Davis Langdon & Everest co-chaired the stream. 'The theme of the conference was Signposts for the 21st Century. Our signpost was globalisation.' The stream explicitly set out to future-gaze — but with focus.

Sunter, says Collins, challenged the bastions of industry and commerce and threw down the gauntlet to let them become less intransigent and more flexible. The idea is quite simple: smaller can be faster and more nimble.

Sunter proposed an agenda for success that started with the ability to scenario plan, to look and the 'big picture' as see its implications. What, for instance are the labour market implications for the AIDS pandemic in South Africa? Anglo-American is a mining company and very labour intensive. The company cannot view AIDS as simply a social issue.

Next comes the need for clear leadership of the corporate entity. 'Virgin is Richard Branson' says Collins. This is followed by the need for proper reward systems to let staff share success. Then is the need for focus and global branding. And all of this requires passion.

Management consultant Garnet Twigg looked at organisation and structure. Collins summarised his view succinctly: if a structure is too rigid it gets ion the way.' Twigg suggested that successful business have a clear anatomy (physical structure) a physiology (the right systems) and a psychology (realistic expectations). Collins adds 'Core values and a demonstrable culture is vital.'

Nicola Turner, editor of World Architecture, suggested that 'good buildings contribute to successful and sustainable businesses.' They are essential, to attract and retain staff, to enhance productivity and give satisfaction. Collins adds 'And this needs to be across cultures.'

Collins own session pondered what needs to be analysed to see where we are going. He suggested that you need to see where the business is going, what it will look like, why it will go there, when - and perhaps crucially how — it will go there.

Collins summarises the conclusions as "Identify, assess, plan and act.' 'It when you come to action is often fails,' he says.

To conclude, Collins introduced some role-play to get delegates to identify two growth markets, taking account of their risk profile. They came up with New York and Ireland. 'New York was a bit surprising, but if you look at Ireland it is the seventh fastest growing construction market. But when you take into account risk factors it is number one.' It has strong demand, needs the skills and works with a familiar legal system.

What this stream offered, says Collins, was a global view (Sunter), a hands-on view (Twigg) followed by an editor's critique (Turner) and the view from a service provider (Collins).

But the key is focus. 'That leads back to the passion that Clem Sunter discussed. Focus is passion,' he says.


Be prepared for the death of the wholesaler. Be prepared for UK companies to get out of the habit of paying dividends. Be prepared for co-operation to be the new competition.

These are some of the more striking conclusions from the seminar stream "Above all their business first" held at the BCO conference in June. DTZ Debenham Tie Leung director John Forrester organised the stream. He says that a major lesson of the seminars for the property industry 'is the need to accept that we do not clearly understand what our clients expect of us.'

The concept of the stream, he says, was to deal with non-property issues before moving to property implications, in short, 'to see what is really happening in our client environment.'

Jonathan Sparey, partner in LEK Strategy Consultants kicked the series off. Forrester says he set a high data standard, especially when analysing the debt and investment profiles of major corporates. It was Sparey who noted that UK attitudes towards dividends may have to change, comparing it with Nasdaq companies which are expected to recycle funds back into the company. They are also expected to co-invest with former competitors and this will herald the death of the wholesaler. He argued, says Forrester, that the suppliers who survive will be those who deliver fastest and at cost. The conclusion is that speed to market is the key.

Around 200 people attended an 'e-commerce wake-up call' given by DTZ analyst Jo Valente and IBM head of pervasive computing David McKenzie. Valente's conclusion was startk: the property industry is re-active and this has to change in the face of exponential growth and technological advance. MacKenzie suggested a future with 'deep computing' in which we are surrounded by intelligent hardware. And it is coming fast: a year, in web terms, is just 90 days. And it will be wireless. Cisco has just built 1m sq ft in Amsterdam without raised floors. So much for recent office design. He expects the 'deep computing future' within 18 months to three years, as bandwidth becomes readily available.

After this vision came the first look at property people in a workshop run by Chris Boulton of Regus, Richard Paver of BP Amoco Global Property and Ray Jenkins, head of portfolio services BT. What struck Forrester was that, when asked to identify which sector various statements about attitudes towards office property strategy came from, it was impossible to work out which corporate made which statement. Forrester's comment about clear understanding came into sharp focus.

The final session, run by John Heawood of Slough Estates -who noted that Slough is already seeing new business models on its estate — identified several topics for further study, ranging from the need for more sophisticated segmentation of the market serving SMEs to improving the building procurement process. But Forrester says that this last, together with the need to study how property can help corporations get to the market faster resonated most with corporates (that is, clients) present.

As one contributor noted, says Forrester 'It can take months to agree the simplest transaction. It is in the interest of the market to simplify things.'


'Just like Gordon Brown the office industry has not taken the Urban Task Force report seriously, says Geoff Marsh, head of EGi London Property Research. 'If they did they would realise that it is a great opportunity for higher profitability, working in tandem with the social inclusion agenda.' It is his summary of the seminar stream 'Profiting from the New Urban Agenda'.

The theme of the seminar was to help understand the scope for profit stemming from the Task Force, the Government's drive for sustainability and it social inclusion agenda.

Speakers ranged from Dickon Robinson, director of development at the Peabody Trust, Julian Barwick, managing director of Development Securities to Stuart Fraser, chair of planning and transport at the City Corporation.

One topic pondered was whether office developers would seek to take the moral high ground at the outset in order to secure advantageous planning permission. Julian Barwick claimed that at Paddington, Development Securities is 'showing missionary zeal' in embracing the New Urban Agenda for the benefit of both the community and shareholders.There may be a risk that developers end up 'buying' planning permissions, by offering social goodies, Marsh argues 'Of course there is. But that's OK. At least its stick and carrot, not stick and stick.'

But the costs can still be high. Marsh says that the consultation process in securing such consents on a greenfield site could be as much as £100,000 per acre — although ironically most of the items secured would have to be built anyway to ensure a viable scheme. But on a site like Paddington, time is money.

Alan Chatham, founder of Birmingham Mailbox considered the practicalities of genuine mixed-use scheme — where non-office uses are not mere tokens. Marsh notes that Canary Wharf is moving from being an 'office gulag' to something else. Commercial needs could deliver many of benefits sought by government agendas. Mailbox itself illustrates this: The 1.2m sq ft scheme contains around 250,000 sq ft of office space, 2 large hotels, a very substantial amount of pure retail, 18 restaurants and dozens of flats — in a single building, observes Marsh. And it is attracting interest from institutional investors. 'That,' say Marsh, 'Is a breakthrough.'

Indeed, he argues that most office development is in fact planning gain driven by residential schemes.

But there are still highly practical concerns arising from potential conflicts between the New Urban Agenda and economic reality.

Will, asked TP Bennett partner Bill Soper, world class technology firms forsake the Thames Valley for Munich rather than Manchester if they can't have car-based office parks? Soper believes they would, although Chatham said he could attracted them to Mailbox style schemes, arguing that companies need choice.

Marsh said it boils down to a distinction between alcohol-based firms and non-alcohol firms: this determines whether you are worried about being able to drive to work or not.

Marsh is sceptical that US firms would give up the UK — with its familiar language and developed skill base — but cautions that 'You can't take the threat lightly.'

© 2000 Ian Cundell