Posted by Will Lewis

Posted 7 June, 2012 OBI BLOG

The British Council for Offices (BCO) Annual Conference landed in Manchester this year where attendees enjoyed an excellent range of speakers, seminars and tours of various office-related issues during the 24th and 25th May. The BCO comprises a mix of senior figures in organisations responsible for designing, building, owning, managing and occupying offices in the UK.

OBI’s Will Lewis, a member of the BCO NextGen Northern Committee Board, attended the event and sets out his first-hand experience of the conference.


The sun was shining, it was hot and Manchester looked fantastic – a great start as we welcomed over 500 BCO delegates to the city.

The conference opened with a good debate on the future of regional cities throughout the UK and the importance of our industry understanding that office development is essential to economic recovery. Interesting views were expressed by Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of the Centre for Cities: he called for the industry to help fast developing, smaller, cities such as Reading, to understand and manage their office stock so they might capitalise on potential business opportunities.

Sir Howard Bernstein spoke well and made it clear that Manchester needed to be like other European cities’ it would need to become digitally intelligent in order to continue to thrive.

Next was a tour in the blistering heat of the Northern Quarter for an overview of Argent’s The Hive, Town Centre Securities Carvers Warehouse and BDP’s Manchester office.  There was a really good mix of professionals on the tour and the party were very impressed with this “old” but very new and exciting part of Manchester.  It’s always good to hear architects such as John Matthews (5 plus architects on The Hive) and Gary Wilde (BDP) speak passionately and knowledgably about their work!

The afternoon kicked off with another tour, this time of the Civic buildings arranged around St Peter’s Square.  Very interesting and the decision of KPMG to relocate to 1 St Peter’s Square will assist Manchester in its quest to create a world-renowned public space in a great part of the city.

The afternoon ended with a seminar: exploring how IT integration will be at the heart of future office design.  Kari Baden, Managing Director at Dimension Data, explained that “although IT and construction have traditionally been uncomfortable bedfellows”, the advances in technologies will lead to all buildings being built to an intelligent blueprint within the next five years. He believes there is potential not only to make a building more responsive to its occupiers, but also to generate a cost saving of 30% over the construction of traditional buildings.

We were also told of a range of new construction materials that will be more widely used to enable buildings automatically to look after themselves. For instance, Keith Priest, of Fletcher Priest Architects, explained potential of the carbon-based material Graphene, currently under development by an award winning team at the University of Manchester. This was cited as potentially a revolutionary facade material that with the potential to absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity to help meet a building’s energy requirements.

The day was completed with the conference dinner at the excellent new venue; The Point at Lancashire Cricket Club.  A strong mix of local and national property personalities attended.


The morning seminar saw Phil Mayall of Muse Developments host a lively debate on the subject of development in London v The Regions.  Simon Wilkes of Legal & General made a compelling and research-backed case for London being the place to invest and representatives from Argent and Hines made the case for the regions.

The presentations were very interesting and confirmed what a global force London remains but also how Manchester’s performance is much stronger than most other regional cities.

The event closed with a vote, which the regions won (with a hint of bias, I think!)

The Conference drew to a close with a debate on the extent to which increased interdependence within and between global cities would determine their rate of economic recovery.

Thierry Malleret, formerly head of the World Economic Forum, General Lord Richard Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff, and Martin Vander Weyer, Business Editor of The Spectator were brought together to debate ‘Who’s got the money now? The new great powers’.

Malleret suggested that the world economy remained a ‘conveyor belt of constant surprises’, shaped by ever-increasing interdependence between nations, transparency, and the velocity and complexity of change.  It was a theme picked up Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the BCO, who highlighted the domino effect the Greek crisis was having on financial institutions across Europe as a prime example of the risks this interdependence can have.

This was consistent with themes from earlier in the conference where we had heard of a strategic shift from rural to urban development entailing a more intimate proximity and increased connectivity within cities across Europe.  Furthermore this is now being felt on a local stage, with over 50% of the world’s population now living in cities. This linked back to the first presentation of the conference which made it clear that the regional cities cannot afford to ignore these trends and that office development in our regions is essential to support wider economic growth.

All in all it was a great conference and the weather really helped showcase exactly what Manchester has to offer.

Will Lewis is partner of the OBI Property Offices department and is involved with a number of new build and refurbishment office projects within Manchester City Centre.