The 2018 Kent Property Market Report launched on 1st November and reveals recent commercial activity is led by a powerhouse of small businesses and not, as in the past, by larger established companies and corporations, and discloses that that the level of businesses migrating to the county is rising.
The Report, researched in the main, by headline sponsor Caxtons Chartered Surveyors, is published in collaboration with Kent County Council and Locate in Kent.
The launch of the Report revealed many positive aspects to the property sector in Kent, but with echoes of national weaknesses caused by economic uncertainty and global trade deals being 'repositioned'.
Some of the findings in the Report reflect changing global trends:
Despite a national crisis on the high street, towns and cities across Kent have survived better than many. In the main this has been due to regeneration projects and management strategies, as well as increased town centre dwellings, which have all contributed and underpinned the life of some of Kent's conurbations.
In parallel with other counties, Kentish towns have lost major players from the roll call of well-known high street names. Conversly, this has provided opportunities allowing independents and new enterprises to enter the market and occupy prime positions that they could not have considered in the recent past. Having said that, towns with higher rental values are not faring as well and struggle to achieve financial expectations.
However, the Report highlights that the diminishing attraction of high street retail has had a knock-on for those who feed the purchasing frenzy of online shopping. The industrial sector has been the beneficiary and there distribution space is in high demand. Both Amazon's 34,000m2 last mile sorting centre in Medway, scheduled to open before the end of the year and Ocado's plans for a 1.92ha site at Littlebrook are a perfect illustration.
Good performance in the wider market has impacted rents, pushing them up by 24% in five years as well as increasing speculative development.
Some offices to residential conversion has made space more difficult to find, but in general the Report reveals that the office sector
Whilst business parks have seen a small fall in rents, this has attracted SMEs and incomers new to the country into any vacant space even though average prime rents are 5.4% ahead of the market peak in 2010.
According to the Report, high quality skilled labour has been instrumental in attracting new businesses into the county with the residential construction market playing a major role.
In 2017/18 the number of new homes completed across Kent rose by 7.3% on 2016/17 figures and there was a sharp upturn in the number of units with planning consent or in the planning pipeline.
With housing stock increasing, the supply and demand chain has been restrained with overall prices rising by 3% and more affordable areas such as Thanet (7.4%), Dover (5.2%), Canterbury (4.7%) and Swale (4.7%) seeing the highest uplifts. Only Gravesham saw a fall in prices, down by 0.4%.
Chairman of Caxtons, Ron Roser, said: "What really comes through in this year's report is just how commercial property activity is being driven by the needs of micro and small businesses rather than large corporations. It's also good to see more space being occupied by companies moving into the area.
"In many areas of the county, the increasing involvement of local authorities in both commercial and residential property development is helping to make a real difference, especially where there is less appetite from the private sector.
"With developers, planners and local authorities working together, much is being achieved. This can be seen out on the ground where infrastructure, housing, regeneration and commercial developments are all coming forward."
KCC Cabinet Member for Economic Development Mark Dance said:"Whilst the economy has been relatively resilient over the last 12 months – despite Brexit and potential trade wars – the report shows us there are wide variations in the performance of individual sectors of the economy.
"Kent remains and is increasingly, a business location of choice with strong letting figures in the town centre office market.
"I'm in no doubt that times are getting tougher, however, particularly in the retail sector, but town centres are changing and Kent has seen a fall in vacancy rates contrary to the national trend.
"I believe Kent remains resilient with a business environment seen as favourable to investment with major initiatives and projects to support growth and economic development in our county in the coming year."
Gavin Cleary, CEO Locate In Kent, said: "The 2018 Kent Property Market Report mirrors what we are seeing on the ground with businesses and people attracted to Kent because of its affordability, connectivity and quality of life.
"From the booming food and drink industry to globally focused manufacturing and a growing creative and digital sector, Kent and Medway is quickly becoming the go-to location for business success.
"With the regeneration and investment in towns and communities across the county from Ashford to Canterbury, Medway to Folkestone, we have all the ingredients in place for a future-facing and thriving, vibrant economy."
The Kent Property Market Report is supported by RICS.
For more information and to download a copy of the 2018 Kent Property Market Report, visit Kent Property Market Report 2018