By Scott Wright

THE mood in the virtual boardrooms of commercial property developers would have been downcast to say the least after the UK moved into lockdown in March.

Demand for quality office accommodation in major cities such as Glasgow had meant developers were looking forward to 2020 being a productive year.

Then the pandemic struck and the future of the office market suddenly looked hugely uncertain as people began working at home in their millions.

Speaking several weeks into the lockdown, Will Hean, director of property developer Osborne + Co, said he did not believe demand for offices will disappear. But he does think there will be changes in the demands office tenants will make in a post-Covid world.

“I think people will be a bit more particular about space,” said Mr Hean, whose career has included spells with Robertson Group and Kenmore Property Group in the Middle East.

“What is really going to be emphasised is quality of environment,” added the developer, who reckons greater importance will be attached by tenants to the sense of well-being new developments can engender in their designs.

READ MORE: Major boost for Glasgow market as developer defies Covid to press on with giant office building

What is clear is that the crisis has not affected the latest major project Osborne is plotting in Glasgow.

In April, when the lockdown was in full swing, the developer lodged a detailed planning application on a scheme to create 120,000 square foot of office space in the old City of Glasgow College, known as The Met Tower.

The proposals also envisage the construction of a 260-bedroom hotel, or serviced apartments, following a proposed demolition of an existing building facing Cathedral Street, linked to the office block by a landscaped plaza.

There may be some tweaks to the plans in response to the coronavirus, though. For example, the developer may revisit its ideas to ensure even greater energy efficiency, or take steps to ensure the building is more naturally ventilated.

“That’s what’s happening in offices in China,” Mr Hean said. “People are going back in, but they are not using the air conditioning. They are just so afraid of recirculating the germs.”

Although the lockdown has meant face to face meetings with key people have been impossible, Mr Hean said a lot of important preparation work has been carried out online. There is certainly no sense of the project being delayed.

READ MORE: Developer of Glasgow’s Met Tower sets up investment management firm

“Glasgow [City Council] have been pretty proactive in the period, doing a lot of pre-app [work] online and by conference call,” Mr Hean said.

“What is testament to that is the Artisan scheme [for a new hotel at 292 St Vincent Street] got through in 12 weeks.

“They are being really good about wanting to move things forward. We are getting a lot of buy-in from key officers, the planners and Historic Scotland.”

He added: “We hope that within two to four months we should be able to get to a position where they are happy to sign off on it.”

Mr Hean hopes Osborne, which he said is funded by a number of high-net-worth investors in the UK and Singapore, can then appoint a principal contractor towards the end of the year, before building work starts in early 2021.

He reckons there continues to be strong demand for new hotel stock in Glasgow, despite the boom in hotel development seen in recent years.

“There are still some interesting foreign operators wanting to get in,” he said. “Some of the big brands are still looking to bring in more of the upmarket, business-star and upscale boutique hotels. I think you just have to be more flexible in the way you approach it.”

He added: “Over the next few months we will try and finalise the operator on that, hopefully in time for having the planning ready as well.”

Osborne announced last week that it has set up a new investment management company to take over the running of its development portfolio, and to target new opportunities.

The Met project follows Osborne’s development of a major Grade A office site in Glasgow’s Argyle Street.

The company secured planning permission for a 270,000 square foot office building in the International Financial Services District, which has been acquired by US banking giant JP Morgan for its new office in Glasgow. JP Morgan is scheduled to move its 2,000 strong workforce into the building in 2022.

“We still very much believe in the Glasgow story,” said Mr Hean.

Also on the Osborne agenda is its proposals for a residential development on Glasgow’s Lancefield Quay, at one time home to a BT van depot.

Mr Hean is excited by the prospect of the project feeding into the wider regeneration of the stretch of Clydeside connecting the city centre with the hospitality hub that had sprung up around the SSE Hydro.

“It is becoming much more of a destination area,” said Mr Hean.

“The site we have got is four acres, so what we are looking to do is masterplan a larger mixed-tenure residential site and a hotel with serviced apartments, all around a central square which is going have a bar opening on to it. It is going to be quite different for that part of town.

“We’re talking to a number of build-to-rent operators and they still feel quite bullish.”

Six Questions

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

For leisure, it has to be Nepal with its fantastic scenery, great trekking and amazing people. And for business, - Denmark. I just really like the way the Danes operate and their approach to business and particularly design.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I wanted to be a civil engineer because I was fascinated by how to build enormous dams and bridges.

What was your biggest break in business?

Getting my job with JLL in Hong Kong in the early 90s having arrived with a one-way ticket with £100 in my wallet.

What was your worst moment in business?

When you have been through a number of property cycles everyone has had a  few “moments” but there’s no doubt you learn a lot. Experience is expensive as they say but you come out stronger.

Who do you most admire and why?

Warren Buffett - over his life he has stayed true to his principles, he doesn’t get distracted by short term trends and invests for the long term in what he really believes in.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

1421 – The Year China Discovered The World by Gavin Menzies. According to the book they reached America 70 years before Columbus and Australia 350 years before Captain Cook!

Music wise I have an eclectic taste – when I run I listen to progressive house music, particularly Above and Beyond, but currently I am embracing the indie rock and indie pop musical tastes of my teenage son and listening to artists like Rex Orange County and Circa Waves. I had never heard of the either till about a year ago.