Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and property Cllr John Izett responds to our Secret Agent’s takedown of the property market in the Hampshire town.
Far from strangling the office market in Basingstoke, as your anonymous correspondent claimed last week, the borough council has been the catalyst for getting development going in the borough.
As the secret author knows, institutional investors, in a perverse ‘safety in numbers’ way, have, for over 40 years, flocked to a limited number of the Thames Valley’s markets like Reading and Woking.
The 60,000 sq ft Florence House, completed in 2016 and let on completion to Sovereign Housing, was the first new office building to be constructed in Basingstoke for 15 years.
This only happened because of this council’s proactive approach. We created that opportunity by offering attractive terms on one of our sites in Basing View for an entrepreneurial, non-institutional developer in the form of Abstract Securities to build speculatively and prove the underlying strength of the Basingstoke marketplace.
Pre-lets, as the author will know, are rare because they are difficult to put together. The pre-let in 2018 of a new 45,000 sq ft headquarters to pharma giant Eli Lilly was a real achievement for the Thames Valley and owed much to this council’s relationship with the company and our commercial approach.
Maintaining the tempo, we sold a site to Village Hotels for a £20 million, 153-room hotel which is now operating and contributing to the flourishing business environment at Basing View. This was another example of our hands-on approach as a council and willingness to sell the site at a peppercorn.
The author seems unaware of the progress being made in bringing forward Grade A offices on Basing View through comprehensive refurbishment.
As a council committed to combating climate change, we support and promote the modernisation of existing buildings at Basing View. New investors have an exciting scheme to breathe new life in one of Basing View’s iconic buildings, Mountbatten House, to which our cabinet has given its approval on the basis of an effective freehold disposal.
There is a thriving SME market place on Basing View with many fast-growing tech companies clustering there.
The global pandemic and the move to home working has hit our office market as it has others in the Thames Valley and across the UK, and it remains a preventative on new speculative office development.
As a council, we are not prepared to take the risk with our council tax payers’ money of funding speculative development. Instead, we work with the private sector and seek to create the opportunities for them to do what they are best at, despite the often difficult macro-economic situation for UK offices market.
We have proactively secured planning permission for two new office buildings of around 40,000 sq ft each at Basing View. Unsurprisingly, after the shock of Covid, developers have not been willing – so far – to come forward and build out these two sites which have been offered – ready to go – in the marketplace, but we are sure that as confidence returns more entrepreneurial developers will again see the opportunities that Basingstoke offers.
Basingstoke as a commercial marketplace is thriving in other sectors. Developer and occupier appetite for industrial and warehouse space here is powerful despite the pandemic with best rents now at £11.50 per sq ft.
By agreeing to re-structure existing long leases with partners such as St Modwen and Legal & General, we have enabled two schemes at Viables Business Park, totalling 400,000 sq ft, to be developed recently with excellent early letting success.
I hope readers will agree that the evidence points to a very different picture of the Basingstoke marketplace than the one portrayed by the writer of this article.
Basingstoke and Deane is very much open for business and all the evidence before us tells me that companies see the borough as a great place to invest.
The mystery author’s knowledge of Basingstoke seems somewhat incomplete. I would be happy to arrange to meet and take them around our town to show what has been achieved and what is in the offing.
Opinions in this column are those of individual contributors and not those of UK Property Forums. If you are involved in the property world and wish to contribute an anonymous article, contact Alan Bunce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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