Focus on: Science and Business Parks – the future looks bright?

As news of another strain of Covid heralds the start of December, businesses will be capitalising on their experience and knowledge of best working practice, gained over the past 20 months.

While striking a balance of working from home (WFH) and office commuting are for companies and employees to agree, survey evidence increasingly points to the need for some form of communal work, to aid collaboration, creativity, training and to underpin the culture of organisations.

Across Kent this hybrid pattern appears to follow national trends, consequently – and following a chaotic 2020 – letting activity has returned leaving little or no vacancies on established business and science parks in the county.

The result of this return in demand is that rents remain relatively stable, and Kent has recorded an average annual increase in prime business park rent of 2% reaching a new high of £23.23 per sq ft (£250 per m2) over the past three years.

Given developments in scientific discoveries during 2020/21, science parks in particular have led the way.
Where other businesses have rationalised on the space they use or are likely to require in the future, the specialist nature of lab and high tech operations sustained park occupation levels throughout the lockdowns.

In addition, it’s hoped that the Government’s new Innovation Strategy, which will increase public investment in R&D to £22 billion a year, will benefit the science and technology sectors. Add to that growing investment funds available for science start-ups and grow-on companies and the result has been a rapid expansion of the sector.

At the forefront of science and innovation.

Mark Coxon, Director and Head of Commercial Agency at Caxtons said: ‘While business parks have experienced few voids and little vacancy or activity over the last year,science parks have certainly taken off in a much bigger way.

”We are seeing new demand from specialists in the scientific world that we’ve rarely noticed before in Kent. It seems that there has been a mix of tragedy – in the pandemic, meeting opportunity – Kent’s workforce and facilities – resulting in a strengthening of the sector. Long may it continue so that Kent is at the forefront of science and innovation”

Day One – Sandwich Discovery Park

Since January ’21, Discovery Park (once entirely Pfizer occupied) in Sandwich welcomed 36 new tenants – including 14 start-ups – and more are due before the year-end, with strong demand for wet lab space from London based science companies. Construction supported by the Government’s Getting Building Fund for an incubator facility with laboratory, write up and office space for 20-25 businesses will be delivered in 2022.

Kent Science Park near Sittingbourne maintained high occupancy through 2021, with consent granted for additional buildings and further applications in the pipeline.

Maidstone’s Innovation Centre is nearing completion and the 30-acre Kent Medical Campus in Maidstone is under way, ultimately having the potential for 1,000,000 sq ft (98,000 m2) for SMEs in life science, healthcare and medtech sectors.

Business Parks are flourishing too.
Kings Hill, Maidstone has agreed new transactions with more space under offer since Covid restrictions eased.

Due to limited voids/floor space at both Crossways in Dartford and Gillingham Business Park there has been little change or activity.

BizSpace moved in to the newly completed Cobalt Building at Eureka Park in Ashford where consent has been granted for additional Grade A office space for pre-letting or plot sales.

In Faversham, at Eurocentre Business Park, Saphir House was taken back and modified by the owner/developer George Wilson Developments, creating two floors of office space above and ground floor retail. The building is now fully let with Screwfix taking 5,000 sq ft (464 m2).

Investment volumes have slowed and there have been no major science or business park transactions during the past 12 months.
Looking to the future, science and technology activity will, most likely, drive the increasing demand for floorspace in the parks and that will have a knock-on effect to related development (speculative or otherwise) and investment.

The Hub at Kent Science Park Sittingbourne

Kent’s relative affordability is a bonus and a pull factor, and its ability to retain a highly skilled workforce in the Garden of England will be more important than ever. In order to attract the right demographic, the overall package on offer must deliver good and affordable housing, varied lifestyle options and quality working space that Kent’s science and business parks are perfectly placed to provide.

For more detailed information follow this link to the Science and Business Parks sector data extract.

To view the full report visit Caxtons 2021 Kent Market Property Report or download a pdf version here.

Caxtons recently won the EGi Most Active Agent in Kent award for commercial property transactions.

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