2021 Business Predictions: Mark Richardson, Partner at BB&J Commercial

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It’s that time of year, when Business Link Magazine invites the region’s business leaders to offer up their predictions for the year ahead. 

It has become something of the tradition, given that we’ve been carrying this out now for over 30 years.

Today we talk to Mark Richardson, Partner & Chartered Surveyor at BB&J Commercial.

Predictions are clearly a dangerous thing, and I daresay not many of us saw the era of 2021 coming twelve months ago.

Working in commercial property, we view a significant change in the landscape, primarily within the retail, office and hospitality sectors. Whilst the latter may bounce back as restrictions are eased, the task for retail and offices is likely to remain more pronounced.

This year has witnessed a huge acceleration in online shopping. The drop in both traditional shopping habits and collapse of major national retailers and independents has witnessed town centres laid bare, and there's little likelihood of a short-term rise in demand for vacant space. The task going forward then for landlords, planners and commercial property agents alike is when we repurpose and redesign our town and city centres.

I do however think that we will rise to the challenge, and since all of us are now forced to think beyond our usual reference point of what is ‘normal’ the medium term outlook needs to be a focus on the repurposing and redesign of the items we do with vacant space. It comes with an opportunity for alternative commercial and residential use in redundant buildings, but it will need to be led by Government in removing planning obstacles whilst providing financial stimulus along with other forms of encouragement to make redevelopment financially viable. Leaving it simply to market forces will I have no fear be enough.

The need for quality office space will I think come back, maybe with more of an emphasis on flexible serviced accommodation. Working from home allows the functions of a job to be fulfilled, but is no alternative to social interaction and personal collaboration. Businesses need both to adapt and grow, and I don’t think that can really be done over a Zoom or Teams call.

What is certain is that in the short term there will be a lot of vacant property to deal with, and both local and national Government support is by no means over if we want to make our town and city centres viable once more.

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