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City of London unveils plans to convert empty offices into homes (GB)

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City Corporation has unveiled an action plan to be the world’s most innovative, inclusive and sustainable centre. The new report developed in partnership with Oliver Wyman, sets out a vision for the next five years with detailed actions to enhance the City’s competitiveness and attractiveness. The plan focuses on three key dimensions of the City’s offer: fostering an innovative ecosystem for businesses and talent; ensuring a vibrant offer that engages workers, visitors, learners and residents; and delivering outstanding environments that support people and businesses with sustainable buildings, high-quality streets and public spaces.  The key suggestions include:

  • Working with private sector partners to provide workspace, advice, digital skills, access to networks and capital. 
  • Ensuring the City is a global testbed for data-driven technologies. The City will also facilitate data-sharing that can be used by data-driven businesses to test solutions. The data-sharing pilot for the London Data Commission (now Data for London) is one such example.
  • A newly rebranded Small Business Research and Enterprise Centre – replacing the existing City Business Library – will open its doors to start-ups and SMEs on 10 May. It will support the creation and growth of sustainable businesses in the City, London and the UK by providing access to essential data and advice
  • Enabling the City’s cultural and creative industries. This may include low-cost, long-term lets for creatives in empty and low-use spaces.
  • Exploring opportunities to enable and animate the City’s weekend and night-time offer
  • A five-year marketing campaign will promote the City as an inclusive, exciting place to be. A programme of weekday events will also support physical and mental wellbeing among the City’s workforce and promote diversity and belonging.
  • Working with the property industry to enable and promote sustainable, flexible and adaptable buildings. The City Corporation will explore new ways to use vacant space and aim for at least 1,500 new residential units by 2030.
  • Working with providers and operators to future-proof the City’s communications, energy and transport infrastructure. A pilot with Cornerstone, the UK’s leading mobile infrastructure services provider, will be held along Queen Victoria Street to demonstrate that mobile infrastructure can support the requirements of the four licensed mobile network operators. Cornerstone is the exclusive partner to the City of London Corporation for the deployment of small cell and rooftop infrastructure. If successful, there will be a City-wide deployment that will deliver 5G coverage across the Square Mile by the end of 2022. Support will also be given to developing renewable energy, heat networks and smart grid infrastructure to enable the transition to net-zero.
  • Collaborating with public, private and academic partners to enhance data collection and analysis and to pilot and scale innovative solutions. This will include sharing data and knowledge of working patterns, travel behaviours and the use of streets and public spaces.
  • Providing new and improved public spaces that include opportunities for culture and exercise. Accelerate plans to improve the experience of walking, cycling and spending time on the City’s streets.

 

Lord Mayor of the City of London, William Russell, said: “Hope is now on the horizon as our economy starts to reopen bringing a semblance of normality to life in the City. This report sets out how we can leverage this momentum and build back better. The Square Mile’s future is bright and we will rise to the challenge of adapting to the new normal that emerges after the pandemic.”

 

Policy Chair at the City of London Corporation, Catherine McGuinness, said: “We have been listening to businesses of all sizes in the City to understand how the pandemic has affected their ways of working and their needs going forward. Firms have told us that they remain committed to retaining a central London hub but how they operate will inevitably change to reflect post-pandemic trends, such as hybrid and flexible working. The Square Mile must evolve in order to provide an ecosystem that remains attractive to workers, visitors, learners and residents. This will involve encouraging growth, fostering talent from all backgrounds, providing a vibrant leisure offer and offering outstanding environments. Inclusion, innovation and sustainability should be at the core of the future City. We remain confident that the Square Mile will return to its usual buzz and vibrancy by building on these pillars.”

 

Planning and Transportation Chair at the City of London Corporation, Alastair Moss, added: “There is no denying that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed some ways of working and accelerated some positive trends that were evident already in urban centres such as the City of London. The City will continue to adapt and prove resilient due to our robust fundamentals. We will work even more closely with the property sector to promote increasingly sustainable, flexible and adaptable buildings that people will thrive in. It will also be essential to continue to future-proof our supporting infrastructure, create more amazing public spaces and accelerate plans to make our streets more accessible. Investors and developers continue to be confident in the future of the City office market and our planning pipeline is extremely busy. This is in anticipation of the take up of work-space stock as more people return to the Square Mile as the pre-eminent place for business in a world-class environment.”

 

Managing Partner at Oliver Wyman Forum, John Romeo, said: “London wouldn’t be London without its people, diversity and openness. The economic and social trends that have accelerated during the pandemic must be met and nurtured in order to see our city and its people thrive, and the Square Mile must be proactive in its response to shape the future and drive the change we want: more innovative, more sustainable and more inclusive. As we emerge out of lockdown and see the economy rebooted, our priority actions will ensure that the City is prepared to meet people’s new way of living and working. By maintaining a world-leading role in fostering talent and innovation, London will in turn be able to help other UK cities and regions bring in wealth and talent in their own rights, by using its position to innovate, test, and disseminate new ideas and approaches.”

 

 

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Bloom secures planning for London ultra-urban warehouse developments (GB)

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Bloom has secured planning consent for two developments in central London. The developments are located in Hackney and Brixton and are the first to be carried out by Bloom for its €290.4m (£250m) ultra-urban warehouse joint venture with Angelo Gordon to acquire and develop sites in central London. In Hackney, on a site by the A12 next to 331 Wick Road, Bloom will develop two units, totaling 14,045ft², designed by Michael Sparks Associates. Construction will start next month, with completion expected in April 2023. In Brixton, at 146-156 Brixton Hill and Units 5 & 6 Waterworks Road, Bloom will develop five units, totaling 35,360ft², designed by Chetwoods. Construction will start in September, with completion expected in August 2023.

 

Both developments will be targeting a BREEAM sustainability rating of ‘Excellent’ and an EPC rating of ‘A+’ in accord with Bloom’s core sustainability objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through construction and operational efficiency. The schemes will include extensive urban greening through the implementation of green walls, green roofs, increased landscaping, bird boxes, and insect hotels to significantly improve the biodiversity; renewable energy in the form of solar photovoltaic panels on the roofs; and lorry, car, and cycle EV charging points to encourage sustainable and active modes of transport as well as enhanced power capacity to accommodate future EV transport technologies.

 

Tom Davies, co-founder of Bloom, said: “Our first two planning consents represent an important milestone for the Bloom team, which is working hard to deliver high-quality and design-led industrial and logistics schemes in supply-constrained inner London sub-markets”.

 

Sam McGirr, co-founder of Bloom, said: “These planning consents for well-located sites give us the opportunity to meet the high demand for convenience and speed from businesses, such as F&B delivery, post and parcel, e-mobility, self-storage and urban logistics and consumers in the local communities”.

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Could equity release be used to help more younger homebuyers?

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Younger first-time buyers could be given more financial help from the Bank of Grandma and Grandad, through the use of improved equity release products, a new report suggests.

The document written by Tom McPhail, of consultancy The Lang Cat, claimed that younger buyers are missing out because older members of their family are unable to satisfactorily tap into their property wealth.

Mr McPhail said: ‘Releasing some of the equity in a property means older homeowners can choose when and how they share their wealth with younger generations.

‘An equity release by grandparents of say £20,000 now, could be transformational for a 20 something struggling to raise a deposit and get on the housing ladder but would make only a very modest dent to the value of the grandparent’s house.’

Releasing some of the equity in a property means older homeowners can choose when and how they share their wealth with younger generations, says new report

Releasing some of the equity in a property means older homeowners can choose when and how they share their wealth with younger generations, says new report

The report acknowledged that equity release has endured a poor reputation in the past after customers suffered ‘severe’ financial knocks.

The sector has been criticised for encouraging people to take on debt, particularly later on in life.

There has also been other concerns about equity release, such as customers falling into negative equity where the value of a property is less than the loan taken out against it when house prices fall.

The report suggested that while the equity release sector has since begun to put ‘its house in order’, it is ‘still not perfect’ and some regulatory safeguards need to be strengthened.

It called for several issues to be looked at, including early redemption charges on equity release products.

It said that most providers apply a simple sliding scale of charges, for example 10 per cent in year on to 1 per cent in year 10.

However, it claimed that some providers apply an early redemption charge based on prevailing gilt rates at that time, putting customers at an ‘unfair disadvantage’.

This is because the fees are not transparent as there is no way a customer can know in advance whether they’d be liable for a charge and if so, how much. 

In the past, customers have also fallen foul of the small print on their equity release loans when it comes to early-redemption penalties – such as couples who must pay an exit fee unless both of them need to go into care.

The report also raised questions about interest rates on equity release products. It said providers should be consistent with their lending criteria and not move the goalposts after customers have taken out a loan, as this can make it harder for them to access a top-up loan in the future, potentially forcing them to remortgage. 

Equity release products could help people access their property wealth to help younger members of their family onto the property ladder

Equity release products could help people access their property wealth to help younger members of their family onto the property ladder

The report argued that equity release products could help people access their property wealth to help younger members of their family onto the property ladder.

Mr McPhail added: ‘Raising a deposit has become an increasingly significant barrier to getting on the housing ladder, with increasing numbers of first-time buyers having to rely on financial help from older generations.

‘Releasing some of the equity in a property allows older homeowners to choose when and how they share their wealth with the younger generation.

‘This more targeted approach gives them greater control to use their assets to the maximum benefit at the point of need.’

Raising a deposit is a barrier to getting on the housing ladder, with increasing numbers of first-time buyers having to rely on financial help from older generations, says the report's author Tom McPhail

Raising a deposit is a barrier to getting on the housing ladder, with increasing numbers of first-time buyers having to rely on financial help from older generations, says the report’s author Tom McPhail

Equity release: How it works and advice

To help readers considering equity release, This is Money has partnered with Age Partnership+, independent advisers who specialise in retirement mortgages and equity release. 

Age Partnership+ compares deals across the whole of the market and their advisers can help you work out whether equity release is right for you – or whether there are better options, such as downsizing. 

Age Partnership+ advisers can also see if those with existing equity release deals can save money by switching. 

You can compare equity release rates and work out how much you could potentially borrow with This is Money’s new calculator powered by broker Age Partnership+.* 

 * Partner link

Jonathan Harris, of mortgage broker Forensic Property Finance, said: ‘Equity release has historically been viewed as a ‘murky’, high-risk sector, fuelled by minimal regulation, poorly-qualified advisers, only a handful of lenders and extortionately high interest rates.

‘Fast forward to today and we see a dramatically transformed sector, benefiting from strict regulation, highly-qualified advisers, multiple lenders and access to very competitive interest rates. 

‘Not surprisingly, equity release is now a viable and growing market for older borrowers looking to utilise the gains seen on property prices to bolster lifestyles, as well as pass on wealth to children when they need it.

‘Those considering equity release should make sure they understand the implications and involve family in any decision-making. It is always important to seek advice from suitably-qualified advisers.’

It comes as a separate report by Legal & General suggested that one in every £90 spent by retired Britons is funded by equity release.

It said that equity release funded an estimated £3billion in retirement spending last year, although it didn’t mentioned the money going to younger generations towards buying a property.

Instead, the report’s survey of 2,000 homeowners found that those with equity release have most frequently used the product to finance home improvements, at 26 per cent.

It said equity release is also being used to support costs such as medical expenses at 17 per cent, maintaining living standards in retirement at 16 per cent, and paying off personal debt at 16 per cent, for example paying off interest-only mortgages. 

It suggested that equity release is likely to play an increasingly important role in financing care-related expenses, with 19 per cent of prospective homeowners citing it as a consideration.

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Allianz Real Estate buys prime office building in Rome (IT)

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Allianz Real Estate, advised by Dils, has acquired an office property in the centre of Rome. The transaction, worth circa €175m, is one of the most important to have been carried out on the real estate market in Rome in recent years.

 

The building, consisting of eleven storeys, comprising nine above-ground and two underground, has a gross lettable area of circa 22,000m² and has undergone a major refurbishment, offering the highest environmental sustainability and energy efficiency standards (LEED Gold Certification). The strategic location, between the CBD and Termini Station, is enjoying great success, especially among corporate occupiers. 

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