Autumn commercial property review by Jon Silversides, Partner, Carter Jonas Oxford

The summer months are traditionally for relaxation, however, Oxfordshire and its surrounding regions have been a hive of activity, particularly when it comes to commercial property.

Though economic and political uncertainties continue to dominate the news agenda, and our collective consciousness, the day to day activity of the diverse employment base is keeping things busy, perhaps even protecting us from the indecision impacting other markets across the UK.

Despite reduced activity levels in the first half of this year, market sentiment remains good, with occupiers who need to move doing so. The city’s university sector is key in progressing activity and will be further boosted by Legal & General’s partnership with Oxford University to provide up to £4 billion of funding over the next decade for residential accommodation and academic space.

More generally, the supply shortage is maintaining upward pressure on rents across the Oxfordshire market. At the region’s key science parks, as a result of recent demand, there is now limited quality space available and the next phases of development at The Oxford Science Park and Harwell are eagerly anticipated.

Turning to development, this has been one the most positive areas of activity with several announcements on plans for new space (perhaps even more noteworthy given the current political climate, however, continued demand is sustaining the market).

And not before time. Historically, for various reasons, the county had been unable to provide deliverable sites or enough Grade A built product to attract larger occupiers. Tables started to turn in 2017, with both Harwell and Oxford Science Park progressing speculative schemes. However, much of the space was filled even before completion.

The announcement then in July, that The Oxford Science Park is seeking planning for permission for Plot 16 is a welcome development. Comprising 165,000 sq ft of workspace for offices and labs across two buildings, as well as a central plaza, wider landscaping and accessibility enhancements, construction is planned to commence in Q2 2020. The ambitious scheme will represent the largest speculative commercial workspace commitment Oxford has seen in perhaps a generation, and the buildings should reach practical completion by Q4 2021. The design will also facilitate access to the planned Railway Station that will come with the re-opening of the Cowley Branch line which, fingers crossed, will happen in 2022.

Across the border in Northamptonshire, another speculative development scheme we’ve been helping to progress was announced, this time at Silverstone Park. MEPC recently released details of the next speculative phase of development at this high-tech business estate. It is set to include nine new units providing 140,000 sq ft of industrial/workshop premises. The plan follows the success of the most recent speculative industrial scheme, which attracted ten new advanced engineering companies to the site. And with four of the new units already under offer on the Park, demand shows no sign of abating.

The area continues to benefit from the increased focus on the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford Corridor, and occupiers are attracted to the Park as much for its proximity to Oxford, Northampton, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury, as being a destination of choice in its own right. The Silverstone Technology Cluster has a growing reputation with a locally based and highly skilled precision engineering workforce. This, in turn, has a cross-over into a myriad of technologies.

Most recently, our team announced the sale of a 24-acre employment site off Downs Road, Witney, to industrial and warehouse developer Tungsten Properties. The site, which forms part of a larger mixed-use development, has outline consent for B class employment uses. It is located on the corner of Downs Road and Range Road and is within 500m of a new junction on to the A40. This provides direct access to Oxford to the east and Cheltenham and the M5 to the west. The official launch of the new site is imminent, but it is already causing a buzz. Witney has experienced considerable growth in recent years, and the promotion of the larger West Witney development scheme, of which this site is part, has played a vital role in its progression. Both investors and occupiers are attracted to its improved infrastructure and the range of development options available. Pent up demand means that strong levels of interest are expected, and should be keeping us busy for the foreseeable future.

The advancement of each of these schemes is extremely positive. The investment, particularly in the current climate, is heartening. They will further enhance the region’s reputation and overall appeal, sending the collective and unequivocal message that it is open for business.

To discuss these developments or any of your property requirements please contact Carter Jonas.

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