Remit office tour reveals culture shift

Velocity joins review of new London offices and their cycling features

Remit office tour reveals culture shift

Office design has a long way to go if it's to encourage significantly more people to commute to work by bike, but some new buildings are well ahead of the curve.

That was the conclusion of the second Remit Consulting tour by 25 property professionals of new and refurbished offices in London, which took place this month (19 July). Dubbed ReTour, it covered the City (One Smart’s Place, 182 High Holborn; 100 Bishopsgate; Riverscape, 10 Queen St Place; Senator House, 85 Queen Victoria Street; 128 Queen Victoria Street; and Watling House, 33 Cannon Street) as well as 4 Pancras Square in King's Cross and 1 Republic in Tower Hamlets.

"Two years on from our report 'The Market Cycles', it is clear that both developers and investors are taking the question of cycling facilities far more seriously," said Remit partner Andrew Waller. "Our cycling inspection tour revealed not only a number of great ideas and innovations but also showed what can be achieved in older buildings that were not originally built with the needs of cyclists in mind."

Cramped facilities, stairs and cycle racks that were unsuitable for many bikes were common flaws; highlights included entry ramps, electric charging points, well-managed locker systems and fresh towel services.

"The tour was excellent and it gave me a lot of confidence we will be delivering an exemplar space for our tenants," said Paul Hargreaves, construction director at Lipton Rogers Developments, the company building 22 Bishopsgate. "The best spaces were colourful and inviting, like Pancras Square and Riverscape. I hated grey uniform bike racks, with no thought about changing the style of bike rack to suit the location or give users an alternative type of rack. Plus white walls, lockers and showers were just too bland for my taste.

"There are a couple of items we are not providing that I would like to change, budget permitting: locker management, with electronic locks that are intelligent and allow the building manager to monitor locker usage, to avoid the someone hogging a locker that they are not using. I would like to change our folding bike racks for folding bike lockers (with doors), to avoid the need for the folding bike user to bring a lock. And do we have enough electric bike stands? Or scooter spaces?"

A vox pop of participants found that Watling House, Riverscape and (pictured above) 4 Pancras Square were the best-rated buildings. Praised features of Argent's building included the cyclist's entrance, with its ramp straight into the storage basement, passing a small maintenance and repair zone. Adjacent changing facilities weren't assessed as the visit took place at 9am, when showers were in use. But the storage area had direct access to the main building lobby. "There isn't one entrance for cyclists and another for other people to get into the building," said Argent sustainability manager Steve Kellett.

The 170,000sq ft building is occupied by a single tenant, Universal Music, which started moving in last summer, completing in January this year. It provides 185 bike racks with 30 folding bike lockers. The changing rooms offer 46 communal lockers plus 86 for men and 82 for women.

"Cycling is fundamental to what we do and the public realm around here makes it quite easy to cycle in," Kellett continued. "We get about 11% of people cycling to work. The London average is about four per cent. We've got young, hip tenants like Google and Facebook and Universal, so maybe our numbers are high because of that, but we like to think it's because of the cycling infrastructure and we're trying to increase that number all the time."

New initiatives included free monthly on-site bike servicing by London Cycling Campaign;  a changing room towel service and upgraded soap and shampoo "to higher-end products", at the occupier's request; and a Brompton hire dock - the success of which prompted the company to plan more more docks and offer tenants free membership, removing the standard £25 annual fee.

Rachel Tough, senior property manager at Kings Cross Estate Services, for Savills, said cycle facility usage was monitored in other, multi-occupier buildings in the estate. "We want to be sure it's all being used fairly, but we don't do that here because it's a single tenant," she said. She estimated that bike spaces were 75% occupied on most days and added that Universal emptied all lockers once a month, "so people aren't hogging locker space".

Kellett added that a bi-annual survey of tenants included questions about the cycling facilities and produced 2,000 responses.

ReTour comprised two groups, with Remit's Waller guiding Adam Coffman (All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group), Colin Curnow (Jones Lang LaSalle), Emma Fayers and Julian Best (Howard de Walden Estate), James Edwards (Evans Randall), Jon Podmore (BNP Paribas Real Estate) and Ranjan Sen (London Cycling Campaign). Led by Remit director Neil Webster, the second group included Justin Sires (Five at Heart), Patrick Davis (Bell Hammer), Paul Hargreaves (Lipton Rogers), Phillip Shalless (AXA Investment Managers), Sam Robson (HSBC), Danny Lemon (Jones Lang LaSalle) and Velocity's Toby Fox. The groups included regular cyclists and non-cyclists.

Most took part on Bromptons, with a couple of road bikes; Waller rode his Santa Cruz Tallboy mountain bike. "I know I had an outsized bike, but I got a bit fed up with carrying it up and down stairs. I would have struggled with an e-bike.

"Only a few weeks ago, the government’s Cycle to Work guidance was updated to include e-bikes and there is likely to be a surge in demand for charging points within office buildings."

Adam Coffman, co-ordinator of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, added: "I am yet to be convinced that cycle commuters are being catered for with best practice. Poor quality cycle racks and steep staircases have no place in a modern new development which is trying to encourage active travel to work.

"However, the recent culture change of property developers, who are now providing high volumes of cycle parking and other facilities in the space that cars used to sit, is very welcome and an exciting progression."

Remit's Webster concluded: “With the UK government looking to double cycling activity over the next five years, the property sector needs to play its part by providing, and managing, commercial properties that bring tangible benefits to the health and wellbeing of occupiers and our environment.

“This changing landscape was perhaps best illustrated on ReTour by Brookfield Properties’ 97,000 sq ft development at 100 Bishopsgate which, when completed this year, will provide 900 cycle spaces, but parking for only four cars.”