A day at the RICS Commercial Property Conference 2017

Nick Wilks
December 13, 2017
While Brexit and political uncertainty continue to muddy the market, I joined 240 UK property professionals in seeking positivity and clarity of government policies at the RICS Commercial Property Conference 2017.

While Brexit and political uncertainty continue to muddy the market, I joined 240 UK property professionals in seeking positivity and clarity of government policies at the RICS Commercial Property Conference 2017.

Just about everyone I met handled only UK-based work and, prior to the presentations, there was much deliberation and doubt about what our historical change with Europe will bring. The packed agenda promised to deliver insights that would help the industry respond to market changes and the pressing issues—and I’m pleased to report that it didn’t disappoint.

Read on to find out what I learnt during a busy and thought-provoking day in central London.

The positive version of the UK’s economic outlook

Dr Walter Boettcher, Research Director of Colliers International, was first up on stage and gave the delegates a confidence-giving boost that we were seeking in his presentation “UK property market: cyclical, political or technological”.

  • Population growth is a key economic driver
    We’ve been seeing the fastest economic growth in Europe with indicators suggesting that the key economic driver is our population growth. The UK is forecast to see the highest population growth over the next 15 years compared to the European powerhouse countries. Coupled with a growing working-aged population, the UK is also the only advanced European economy set to continue its economic outperformance.
  • Demand for property outstrips supply
    Weak Sterling is only one part of the story which has seen a rise in property investment by overseas investors. Cheap finance, student growth and innovation reputation are all supporting factors that ensure the majority of property companies are optimistic about real estate investments in the UK post-Brexit decision. Overall, global demand for property outstrips the supply.
  • Technology
    Technology got its first mention of the day; technology is the disruptor, not politics, and is a real economic driver. I suppose the advice is to invest in tech!

Back to reality

Next on stage was the CEO Forum made up of representatives from GVA, Howard de Walden Estate and Kames Capital who discussed the current Brexit landscape.

Despite attempting to be positive, they found it difficult to predict where the UK property industry is within the Brexit cycle. The consensus is that targets will be met with a “get on with it” attitude.

  • Diversity
    Diversity was a central discussion when it was remarked by panellist Melanie Leech, CEO of the British Property Federation, that most attendees were white, middle-aged men. More companies are pledging to re-balance this issue and working harder to attract a more diverse next-generation, as well as rebalance gender, into the property industry.
  • Infrastructure projects
    The audience certainly approved of GVA’s recommendations for the Government to give more funding to largescale infrastructure projects which would, in turn, aid regional regeneration projects. However, more control needs to be given to the private sector in order to plug the gaps in funding provided by the public sector.
  • Residential investment
    The UK is lagging way behind all the principal Eurozone countries in terms of residential investment. We need to find ways to allow the UK to catch up.

Breakout presentations

After the two main presentations, attendees had a choice of breakout presentations. Here are some of the key discussion points and things I learned from sessions on ‘Real estate and the tech sector’ and ‘Innovation in retail’

  • Tech is predicted to make a big impact in the reduction of back office jobs as AI makes inroads.
  • Industrial and logistic units are at the forefront of technological advancements and ready to reap the rewards.
  • The increased demand for residential developments in cities means much needed inner-city industrial/warehouse space is reduced. A solution being looked at by Segro is multi-storey warehouses.


The day was packed full of subjects across a range of disciplines so there was plenty food for thought. Although I couldn’t attend all the sessions, I was kept constantly busy networking with professionals from a variety of disciplines.

The consensus from people I spoke to was that we got the positivity we were looking for – albeit with a healthy dose of constructive realism. I have to agree and I found it particularly pleasing that, despite the ongoing pollical upheaval, the presentations and discussions focused on longer-term solutions.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing how quickly we’ve progressed in 2018.

The RICS Commercial Property Conference took place on the 7 December 2017 at Victoria Park Plaza in London.

Nick Wilks

Nick was unrelenting in his pursuit to extend TopUp’s growing global portfolio. He has since transferred his passion from digital transformation to supporting people in the not-for-profit sector.

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