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A carbon and life science conference takeaway – with a healthy dose of optimism

Nick Oddy, Director of ISG shares insights into MIPIM 2023 - with key takeaways on the subjects of low carbon retrofit, infrastructure upgrade and the impact of technology brands for the future of the sector. 

With conference season underway, it’s great to see attendee numbers closely resembling pre-pandemic levels. It's also encouraging to detect a sense of optimism and a general willingness to recognise and embrace some fairly transformational changes in our sector.

For anyone experiencing MIPIM last month, I hope, like me, you were buoyed by the calibre and nature of the debate from the many panel discussions at the renowned global property event. A key talking point was around the subject of low carbon retrofit, but surprisingly, the tone of these conversations was explorative and positive, not framed around additional burden and increased regulation.

It’s remarkable how quickly built environment practitioners have coalesced around core ESG principles. I’m certain that our industry’s largest client – the public sector – has played a key role in this gravitational pull. The eight-year Government Property Strategy, launched in 2022, sets out how half a trillion £ of public assets will be optimised for performance – and that’s a reference to both the buildings and the civil servants that use them.

Few, listening to the words of Shravan Joshi, Planning and Transportation Committee Chairman at the City of London Corporation, could fail to register the ambition of linking investment in upgrading and decarbonising London’s physical infrastructure, and its transformative effect on communities and social outcomes. Acknowledging the wider government agenda, Shravan stressed the point that ‘levelling up doesn’t mean levelling down for London’ – it’s about focusing resources and energy on those areas that need the most support.

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There is a real consistency of approach and language that I’m hearing from those in key positions of responsibility for public sector property assets, across the full spectrum of sectors, and at a regional level. Conversations with private sector organisations show a similar synergy in approach and mindset, and this is profoundly significant given the scale of the challenge, and the opportunity that lies ahead.  

Connecting the dots - there’s much talk around the redevelopment of the Kings Cross area of London, with the arrival of global technology giants generating headlines as they spark a localised renaissance. But there’s also another story that’s beginning to emerge based around the ‘war for talent’ and a further blurring of the lines between big technology and life sciences.

The anchoring effect of global technology brands and the impact this has on drawing talent into the Kings Cross tech hub area, is catalysing significant life science investment in the same location. How this trend affects our traditional view of the London, Oxford and Cambridge tech triangle, will play out in due course, but these rapidly emerging life science facilities in our capital city, next door to Silicon Valley’s most identifiable brands, are a persuasive offer for both new and established talent. The recent announcement of a planned life science facility in Canary Wharf points to the transformation happening in front of our eyes right now.  

My key takeaways from the conference season so far are that low carbon retrofit as a phrase and concept is now ingrained in our key customers. The biggest challenge we collectively have is to demonstrate that we have the skills and capacity to deliver to continually growing expectations. Secondly, never underestimate the power of reinvention and the capacity of our cities for change – much of which is likely to come from the inexorable rise of technology and its associated applications across our lives.
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