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Tim Dwelly's live/work blog

Now recovery is under way - or at least the property crash is over - how has live/work fared? Pretty well it seems. What could have been a part of the property market that was dumped as a boom-time fad has in fact emerged as a growing market for people wanting (or having) to do things differently and at a lower cost to their own wallet/the globe.

Enquiries at www.liveworkhomes.co.uk have been on a steep upward since the summer. Stalled live/work developments are coming back into play. And major players are looking again at whether unique live/work designs may be a more useful property type than bog standard spec-built flats which remain hard to sell on many sites. Everyone is thinking low carbon, everyone is looking to do more with less.

Reports we have received from the USA bear this out there too. More people there, live/work developers tell us, are wanting to save costs by combining workspace and home. The downturn has accelerated this. The market is growing fast. You will soon be able to follow this at our new website www.liveworkworld.com.

The same is the case in the UK. People are thinking differently about how they work and where they live. Many will not return to the employee/commuter lifestyle. Instead they will put faith in their own destinies and take payment for the full benefit of their skills and knowledge - rather than pass this on in large part to an employer.

Not only have those who do this already preferred the flexibility of live/work (one property not two, no time wasted commuting and often a preference for associates/contractors rather than staff). There has also been a whole generation of skilled and motivated middle managers made redundant joining their ranks. Many have set up on their own - and used their redundancy pay off to launch a business.

In tough times this has often meant using the home as the launch pad. From everything we have seen and heard at LWN, live/work units fit well with this group, especially when they look to find a property better designed for work use - but retaining the advantages of home working. Why risk paying for an office and taking on staff?

With some kind of recovery in the air, people are beginning to sense more certainty about their lives in post-recession Britain. The mist is clearing and things look different. This recovery won't be like 1992 because we now have global warming to contend with.

My theory is that people don't actually want things to boom again. Many are scaling down their pre-2008 spending/borrowing habits, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Not everyone cares about carbon yet, true. But there is a growing sense that the planet has to start living within its means. Restraint, simplicity and 'making do' are back in fashion. And these values don't look like going away because a recovery is under way.

What has all this got to do with the property sector? Well, like most families, it also has to recalibrate its values for the low carbon economy. It can't go on developing property that is the equivalent of buying the latest HD plasma TVs or giant American fridge freezers - things that aren't really needed.

Self employment and home working have been synonymous for many years. This trend looks likely to accelerate now. The low carbon economy - coupled with much lower public spending on things like business parks and innovation centres -  points to a very different working landscape in the UK.

Suddenly the office economy  looks very old fashioned. This is not to say there won't be offices and commuters in the future. But the assumption that almost all workers will be employees of a large organisation, that they will have a home that they commute from to a large urban workspace looks unsustainable. We can't go on just building properties that are used part time if we want a low carbon economy.

Millions are working from home in the UK now. For all kinds of reasons, not least the incredible advance of broadband and technology, these numbers look set to rise.

But there are a lot of people - housebuilders, commercial property agents, business advisers and large employers - who will find all this challenging. They have built careers, businesses and policies on pre-recession, pre-low carbon ways of delivering property.

They are not going to find it easy to adapt and look forward. But they will have to, just as industrialists have previously done when faced with a slump in demand for an outmoded product.

Huge head offices, innovation centres, rush hour commuting, new business/science parks are not where the smart money is going. They won't disappear, true, but neither has heavy industry. They will however decline. They will have to do so because the globe (let alone UK plc) cannot afford for them to go on expanding.

It just isn't going to be OK to apply the word 'eco' to a home or a business park and think that this will do the trick. Construction alone (even of eco-property) is a huge source of carbon. And of course it's a myth that trains and buses don't mean emissions. They do - and so do the stations and track and terminals they need to operate. If the need to commute daily at all is reduced, we can reduce the need for all of these things as well as the need for gas-guzzling cars, roads, planes and airports. All the above can be used I a more smart way. They will have to be.

So it's time to wave goodbye to the old high growth, high carbon office economy.

Look forward to local workhubs, home based entrepreneurs, rapid advances in video meeting technology and a shift from staff with pensions to freelancers with contracts.  The live/work economy in other words.
 

 

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