A recent seminar hosted by TM Group  and GroundSure brought together key industry commentators to discuss the speed of change in the commercial property sector. The event was aimed at helping lawyers identify legislative changes and act in the best interests of their clients whilst adapting as a firm in this fast changing environment.
Set in The Inner Temple, London, the ‘Speed of Change’ events featured speakers from businesses including Glenigan, ELM Law, Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP and Lockton.
Allan Wilen, Economics Director at Glenigan, opened the event with an introduction to current trends in the commercial property sector. Drawing on Glenigan’s data and analysis, he reviewed the factors shaping the commercial market’s fortunes and reported that: “all sectors are looking better than a few years ago. It’s the first time I’ve been able to tell a positive story for a while”. He went on to explain that two thirds of the UK economy is related in some way to property and construction, making it difficult to overestimate the importance of the sector.
Allan was followed by Keith Davidson, founder of ELM Law, a specialist environmental practice that supports property and corporate lawyers in other firms. He led a session on tactics for environmental liability transfer which explored lender attitudes to flooding and contaminated land in particular. Keith commented:
“There are hundreds of thousands of contaminated sites in the UK, and increased flooding will only exacerbate this problem as well as causing its own with regards to property damage. One in six UK properties is already at risk of flooding, and this number is set to grow. It’s essential that commercial property lawyers order the relevant flooding searches on a property and advise their clients on potential flood risk. We’d recommend that for every property transaction, lawyers do a combined contaminated land and flooding desktop search, warn clients about the strength of the clauses and order the appropriate insurance.”
Third speaker Katharine Fenn is a real estate professional support lawyer at Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP with over 14 years’ experience. She spoke authoritatively on property due diligence, examining topical issues such as searches and enquiries; access and highways; town and village greens; and rights and covenants. Katherine described the handling of commercial property transactions as a juggling act: “There is so much to think about, analyse, and report back to the client. The overriding question that you have to ask when taking on a case is, what is the site being used for? What will it be? There are a huge number of problem areas to consider when doing your due diligence, and it is your job to identify anything that you might stop your client doing what they want.”
Katherine focused largely on a current, high-profile risk – potential town and village greens (TVGs). As increasing numbers of cases are reported, she outlined the danger signs to look out for, including broken fences and visible footpaths. Katherine went on to explain that the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 introduces measures to prevent development being delayed or halted by an application to register land as a TVG. Under this act, landowners will be able to deposit a statement and map to bring to an end any period of use ‘as of right’, which she felt would mean that TVGs become less of a problem in the future.
Finally, attendees heard from Calum Maclean, a risk manager for Lockton’s Professions clients in the UK. He analysed extensive data around claims against law firms, explaining that claims and complaints can be a significant risk for firms in terms of fee write off, loss of clients and lost time. Calum commented:
“Most claims relate to property work, and 60 per cent of these are communication related, such as delays and failure to advise. Administrative errors such as failing to register deeds also feature highly. It’s essential that firms have robust systems in place to ensure that details aren’t missed, and that they keep a detailed record of conversations with their clients to ensure that they are covered in the event of a complaint.”
Ben Harris, sales and marketing director of TM Group, commented on the event: “The commercial property space is incredibly fast-moving and it can be a challenge to keep up-to-date with regulation and stay compliant. We hope that attendees found the session interesting and informative.”
Malcolm Smith, sales and marketing director of Groundsure, added, “There are many elements to consider when purchasing commercial property. This seminar was designed to equip solicitors with the level of detail they need in order to make confident decisions on behalf of their clients today and tomorrow.”