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As we shiver through January I was reminded that it’s also the 50th anniversary of the coldest month ever recorded in the UK. That was the winter of 1962/3. Whilst there was no white Christmas, the country was blanketed in snow on Boxing Day where it lay that year on frozen ground until Easter. The higher reaches of the Thames were frozen over for weeks and ice flows were a hazard to shipping in the Channel. Blizzards and snow drifts caused severe disruption to the movement of goods and travel. Last year the UK experienced the driest first three months on record, with the resulting hose pipe ban heralding in one of our wettest summers and culminating in severe flooding in many areas of the West Midlands and West Country.
Extremes of weather certainly affect the way we live and go about our business. Hurricane Sandy which swept into the Eastern Seaboard of the States at the end of last year pretty much turned New York into a ghost town for several days – one of the largest business and financial centres in the world. The tsunami off the coast of Japan in March 2011 not only caused large loss of life and near-nuclear catastrophe but also had a significant negative impact on the Japanese economy.
However, in many respects our economy is more able to cope now with the effects of extreme weather than fifty years ago. Generally homes and offices are better insulated and heated, and energy sources such as natural gas rather than coal are more reliable. In the UK, flooding has had the most damaging effect on property both on the fabric of buildings and their values. In a great number of cases, buildings so affected can be neither insured nor mortgaged and in consequence become unsaleable.
Snow and ice seem to cause just as much disruption on roads, rail and air as ever it did in the past, and indeed is a nightmare scenario for commuters. But here is the rub for commercial property, especially for shops and offices: we now have the Internet, email and home shopping. Sandy barely affected the business and financial operations of the empty skyscrapers of New York. BlackBerrys buzzing under the duvets ensured that.
So are the days of the central London office suite numbered? Not for now. We still need to meet to team build and to do business. But that is not an absolute necessity when severe weather conditions make commuting hazardous and time consuming for staff. Most businesses can continue efficiently for a short time through such a crisis particularly if there is a clear emergency protocol in place such as secure access to servers. So, yes, BlackBerrys under the duvet; but keep your pyjamas on to Skype!
Morgan Pryce is a specialist tenant acquisition agent with offices in Oxford Circus and the City. Morgan Pryce specialises in search, negotiation and project management and works exclusively for tenants.