Despite the current Covid-related challenges, Cardiff is a future-focused city with an exciting story to tell. Offering fantastic quality of life, attracting increasing levels of inward investment, huge amounts of planned infrastructure spend and strong population growth projections. Opportunities lie in facilitating this future growth; there is currently an under supply of high quality city centre office space and the growing population will require additional housing. Post-Covid, quality – in terms of offices, amenities and public realm space will be more important than ever.
CARDIFF MOBILITY TRENDS
Changing in routing requests since 13 January 2020
Source: Knight Frank, Apple
Lockdowns in Cardiff and across Wales and the UK have brought about large reductions in travel according to studies of mobile data. Apple mobility data shows the changing number of requests for directions by transport type. During the summer, driving and walking requests slowly returned to pre-lockdown levels, while use of public transport remains suppressed.
ANY RETURN TO THE OFFICE MEANS ISOLATION BEFORE COLLABORATION
Even after Covid containment restrictions are relaxed, the return to physical spaces will be slow and gradual. Employees are likely to return to the workplace in arranged shift patterns and find capacity much reduced. For an interim period, circumstance will serve to modify interaction with space. Physical distancing will be inherent, as will a stringent cleaning regime, regimented human transit routes and staggered working patterns. Offices with larger floorplates may prove more conducive to a return, with spaces more easily divisible to adhere to distancing.
SLOW ROAD TO REOPENING OFFICES
Whilst practical steps within the workplace are achievable, the commute may ultimately dictate the ease of any return to the office. Public transport presents a clear area of vulnerability in terms of exposure to Covid-19 meaning a health crisis will severely affect not only the way we work together but also the way we co-exist in public. This may mean a shift in occupier preferences to locations of least reliance. In Cardiff, around 11% of journeys to work are by public transport. This leaning toward road use could in the immediate term, offer an easier route to back to the office for some firms. Longer term, analysis regarding operational risk may conclude that locations predicated on private transit, offer the best form of resilience to any health emergency reoccurrence in the future.
WILL OCCUPIER PREFERENCES CHANGE?
The experiences of the pandemic will clearly have a long-lasting impact on the way we work and how our workplaces function. Working for home has proved effective stand in for the office and will be a component of business operational structures moving forward. It is not though, a wholesale replacement. The role of the office was already transitioning away from being hubs of administration towards centres of collaboration, creativity and innovation. This trend will accelerate in the post Covid-19 world and serve to make offices more important. With a significant business restructuring agenda upcoming, the office will be a focus of education, reshaping corporate culture and a pivot to drive digital transformation. The flight to quality will continue and markets that offer best in class will remain in strong demand.
WORK IS WHERE CONNECTIVITY IS EVEN AFTER THE PANDEMIC
As the forced shift to remote working reveals weaknesses in business continuity, digital transformation will clearly be a high business priority moving forward. The crisis has evidenced both improved business agility via technological means, and reminded of the important role that technology holds in current and future service delivery. The pandemic has served to expose vulnerability of some businesses who have previously off-shored operations. The problem? Employees have been unable to work from home due to weaknesses in internet connectivity and IT platforms beyond the office environment. This has meant that certain functions have ceased as a result. Digital infrastructure, whether at a country, city or building level, will be a point of differentiation. In this respect the City of Cardiff is well positioned, with 98.43% of homes and businesses having access to superfast broadband.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER CRISIS? THE CLIMATE
Understandably, the attention of all businesses is on Covid-19 at present, but the climate emergency remains an issue requiring equally comprehensive action. The built environment accounts for 45% of total UK carbon emissions and 32% of landfill waste comes from construction and demolition of buildings. Covid-19 will clearly bring challenges to reducing this burden not least from the expected tightening of budgets for businesses and developers. New development projects aimed at achieving zero carbon credentials may now question viability if lower rental growth is the result of weaker economic conditions for example.
Transport also has a role to play. Plans such as congestion charging, staggered working incentives, South Wales Metro as well as cycleway schemes were under consideration by Cardiff Council ahead of the pandemic. In the immediate term, the sharp fall in people travelling will have meant urgency will have lessened. The importance of measures to mitigate the impact of travel will rise as employees return to work though.
In the aftermath of the last major economic shock of 2008, the green agenda took a back seat. Will the same be true in 2020?