But there is another group of "users" who have an important role in shaping the future: investors. If they refuse to put money into buildings, there will be no city of tomorrow: One rock-like certainty among the differences of opinion over the future of work and the office block is the confidence among major funds in the future of property investment.

Martin Moore, investment management director of Prudential Portfolio Managers, one of Britain's largest financial institutions, is sure that the major players will still be around in the next century. In fact he believes there will be even more property leased from investors than today, as businesses move away from owner-occupation.

This confidence rests on the belief that city centres have been around for centuries and will continue to exist because of a basic human need to gather in a communal workplace. Teleworking and virtual shopping will have an impact but there will still be city cores, he says.

Buildings themselves will change as we move away from the indulgent, air-conditioned 1980s to more energy-efficient construction with recyclable materials. But cities have the capacity for change to meet new demands because there is so much space available. Firms are already moving back into UK centres because rents have fallen over the last five years. The investment funds will back conversions of obsolete buildings, says Mr Moore - not necessarily into new uses like housing but certainly into offices.

John Whalley, boasts a forward-looking role as chairman of the investment forum for Britain's main body for property professionals, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. But he is also property director of AMP Asset Management, which requires hard-nosed investment decisions. He admits that the pace of change can no longer be matched by buildings. A lot more real estate will be worth a lot less in future, he says.

But property will remain a repository for investors. In fact, they will recognize the need for a greater percentage of funds to be put into this sector because of the underlying fact that everyone needs some form of workplace.

He forecasts a return to older values, however. In the city of tomorrow property will be judged keenly on its prime location in the best parts of city centres. It will not be actively traded but kept for life and upgraded when obsolete. If a brave new world of conversion into uses such as housing or leisure emerges, backing will be given as long as it is economically justified, he says.

One important factor keeping central London afloat is the interest of overseas investors. Bruce Lloyd says the inefficiency of office blocks has been hidden from developers and landlords over the last few decades by heavy demand from foreigners to invest in London offices. First the Japanese and Scandinavians, now the Germans and Russians have snapped up office investments. These effectively bailed out London at a time of crisis, and had some influence in other UK centres.

No-one can predict how, or whether, these trends will develop over the next 50 years, as they rely too much on international financial variables. But the numbers are so large that even small changes could have an enormous impact on the office market.

Mr Moore is far more optimistic. He believes foreign money will flow into the UK even more strongly as property markets are globalised. But this comes back to the ability to 'sell' the city as a worthwhile place to invest. Politicians must also realise the importance of government investment in maintaining the urban fabric.

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