Darren Hughes Anstey Horne for comment piece

The changing world of property consultancy

The lessons of the past few decades have been painful, but necessary. Now, with robust legislation, growing professional expertise, and new technology it looks like the property sector is back on track to deliver buildings fit for the future, writes Darren Hughes of Anstey Horne.

Way back when

Back in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s, buildings were constructed in solid materials to institutional standards. My experience suggests bank or fund monitor and a clerk of works checking the quality of development activity seemed to be more commonplace. Risk appeared to be avoided  and standards more regularly adhered to. While older assets had their fair share of deleterious materials and didn’t have to cope with the rigours of today’s climate, there were well-versed industry standards to follow and simpler forms of construction.

Regulation used to be prescriptive. You knew where you were with a large volume warehouse – with Section 20 London Building Act or Section 65 of the Greater Manchester Act requiring automatic fire sprinkler protection and fire certificates.

Something’s broken

Since then, we have seen two decades of inexpensive borrowing and deregulation, resulting in an increased volume of substandard development of bigger, higher, and shinier value-engineered buildings. This has been followed by a decline in our town centres, Brexit, a change in our working practices through the pandemic, an unprecedented disaster at Grenfell, and global instability forcing up costs.

This has exposed the vulnerability of our built assets and our industry to the world. Buildings are prematurely being deemed obsolete as the ‘flight to quality’ and ESG become a corporate badge. As organisations boast about their sustainability credentials, there is a lack of innovative repurposing of buildings given the amount of embodied carbon they hold.

We now find ourselves suffering the consequences of an unfortunate and sometimes self-inflicted chain of events and will do for years to come. New legislation will take hold causing the industry to proceed with caution – undertaking more due diligence, corrective action, and forensic stock-taking with the inevitable outcome of slow progress and unexpected property costs.

The legislative storm

The arrival of the Building Safety Act, Levelling Up and Regeneration Act, Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard, Renters Reform Bill, and Future Buildings Standards increase the burden of accountability on developers, owners, operators, and advisors. The fallout from these newly generated legislations will force unprecedented change on industry practices and standards to a level not seen for the last 30 to 40 years, resulting in a storm for which many will be ill-prepared.

The role of the technical advisor

Advising in the property arena has become complex, with the emergence of numerous specialisms making the demonstration of competencies to cope extremely important.

Providing one-stop packaged services has become difficult. Instead, a host of skilled professionals with forensic capability and experience, as well as technical and legislative knowledge will be required. There is a learning curve. Demand for good advice is likely to outstrip supply as professionals upskill to meet demand. Professional membership organisations and industry will play an important part with training.

With the emergence of ever advancing products and technologies, not to mention AI, there will be abundant opportunity to shape the quality of our buildings to meet the demands of our regulatory standards in pursuit of higher quality, safer, smarter, and greener buildings.

Introducing the professional surveyor

The role of the surveyor has broadened beyond traditional technical boundaries to encompass strategic procurement, risk management, and stakeholder communication.

They are now integral to both the strategic planning and execution phases of construction projects.

Professional surveyors develop procurement strategies that align with safety standards, optimise costs, and ensure project efficiency. Their guidance is crucial in selecting appropriate materials, technologies, and services. They identify and mitigate risks early in the construction process, navigating regulatory and compliance challenges to protect projects from delays and cost overruns.

A vital role is played by surveyors in advising clients on leveraging and maximising funds like the Building Safety Fund and the Cladding Safety Scheme for safety enhancements.

Engaging professional surveyors prior to the pre-tender phase ensures that projects are compliant, competitive, and reflective of the latest safety and technological standards. Their early involvement ensures that tender documents are comprehensive and strategically poised to meet project and safety goals.

As construction industry demands evolve, the professional surveyor’s role has become indispensable in ensuring that projects are optimized for success.

The horizon and beyond

Governance has always been a part of our industry but never more than now have the commercial and technical challenges been so great. Developing buildings fit for the future and ensuring our existing buildings are regenerated robustly will be a challenge which must be met to ensure the buildings depended on so much on by investors, operators and end users avoid the damaging financial pitfalls of recent history.

We’re in a new era of the golden thread and net zero. While no doubt the sector will be resilient – knowledge, planning, foresight, innovation, and adaptability will be key to futureproofing our buildings. We therefore need to strap ourselves in for that launch up the learning curve to a destination not quite yet known.

  • Darren Hughes is a director at Anstey Horne, based in Manchester


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