BUSINESS PARKS ARE NOT DEAD…. THEY’RE JUST EVOLVING!
By Mark Canning, director at Canning O’Neill
“A couple of years ago in the dark days of deepest recession one could be forgiven for believing that the traditional out of town business park had been condemned to die by a combination of over enthusiastic environmentalists in the guise of PPG13 and the more comprehensive office propositions offered in the town and city centres.
In this blog we’ll explain that, while there will always be office occupiers who generally favour in town to out town locations, – the professions being the classic example – business parks are here to stay. And in fact companies’ ability attract and retain staff has become an increasingly key element shaping the selection of an office location.
City Centre vs Business Parks
A city centre is inevitably going to provide a larger catchment area for staff with its more comprehensive public transport interchanges. Manchester city centre for instance has a reported catchment of 7.2m workforce within a one-hour commute. Its range of retail and leisure amenities for staff to enjoy both at lunchtime and outside work will also always exceed those offered “out of town”. Business Parks just can’t compete…or can they?
Why were business parks create in the first place?
On the face of it the Parks have little going for them when compared to city centres, but that would ignore what fuelled the migration of office occupiers to business parks in the first place. Modern, larger and more efficient floorplates, self-contained image and identity and plentiful car parking, fuelled the business park boom in the 70’s and 80’s. It was fresh and seen as ‘the’ place to have an office!
Arlington, and others after them, developed parks which were projected as ‘better places to work’ than the overcrowded city centres, where traffic congestion lead to longer commutes, a lack of free car parking when arrived and often higher rents for inferior quality space. These were all persuasive arguments in favour of the parks.
But these original USP’s are no longer enough for increasingly more discerning office occupiers. In an ideal world, an occupier would like all the benefits and none of the disadvantages of the City Centre, combined with the environment of the Business Park. Welcome to the future of Business Parks!
What lessons can be learnt from successful business parks?
Birchwood has undoubtedly benefitted from continuing to be a hub for nuclear engineering, which continues to throw up new contracts and opportunities, but look at its USP’s! Virtually unlimited car parking with access to both M6 and M62; a full range of office accommodation to maximise market share; conference centre; restaurant, coffee shops, childrens’ nursery; comprehensive bike hub; fully equipped commercially run gym; “community” events; dry cleaner; and an ATM. The list goes on but it provides what out of town occupiers clearly want.
In the way that Chiswick Park in London has long been held up in London as the exemplar for the modern day business park, the same could be said about Birchwood Park in the North West. One hopes that it is in safe hands with new owners, Patrizia!
Moorfield and Property Alliance at Towers Business Park in Didsbury do not have the same amount of space to play with but have worked hard to create a business community and have added a small coffee shop to supplement off site facilities. Small improvements, but important ones that have resulted in deals to likes of Oracle, and in Moorfield retaining Honeywell, John Lewis and British Airways.
Although the marketing material for Towers induces momentary nausea by suggesting that the park is “Where work is a pleasure. Life is a joy,“ it is inspired no doubt by Chiswick Park’s “Enjoy-Work” campaign, and demonstrates the clear shift towards making the Parks less sterile and more appealing to the workforce.
More business “campuses” than business parks (although the concept is much the same), are Peel at MediaCityUK and Hunters at Exchange Quay in Salford Quays. Both have the same idea, but there are some of the more traditional out of town parks that still need to reinvent themselves or run the risk of missing out on growing demand.
Are additional facilities the answer?
Business Park owners cannot afford to rest on their laurels and assume that a leafy environment will be enough to sell the proposition. Occupiers now expect a good deal more!
Quality also still counts. Goodman’s Manchester Business Park and Manchester Green, owned by DB Symmetry, don’t boast an array of on-site facilities but the quality of the buildings and the profile of the locations have attracted the likes of Costain, which took 38,500 sq ft Emirate Airlines (22,000 sq ft) and Chiesi (18,000 sq ft), all within the last 12 months.
Bruntwood’s work on Alderley Park will be watched with interest. It has the size and components to appeal to the out of town market and is certainly leafy enough, but one must perhaps question whether it can afford to only focus on science based occupiers.”
What do you think?
Are you a business deciding between an town centre or out-of-town location? Or maybe your developing a park but have concerns about which facilities are high on occupiers’ agendas? Whatever your thoughts, get in touch with us on Twitter – we would love to hear from you! And if you’re looking for advice on relocating or developing an office scheme then get in touch.