Renata Lovat Short, associate solicitor in the real estate team at Thames Tap partner Clark Holt, gives a first hand account of what the firm experienced in the market during lockdown – and notes how the last few months may have put Swindon on the radar of many more occupiers and investors.
The Covid-19 pandemic is the third time in my legal career that I have worked through an economic crisis; the 2000 dot.com crash and the 2008 recession feel like nothing in comparison though.
Let’s not forget as well, the more muted effect (comparatively) of Brexit uncertainty in recent years and that the full ramifications of our exit from the EU have yet to be played out.
So, once again, the property market has been hit and whilst for now it has been a short sharp shock, it seems the proverbial has perhaps yet to hit the fan, economically speaking.
Thankfully, we at Clark Holt have steered through the current economic turbulence well for now.
Our commercial department has continued to be busy and our corporate department has happily pulled off various deals in the last four months due to our largely entrepreneurial client base having a nose for opportunity and having a positive mindset.
Our commercial property department has been on something of a journey as well. In the initial weeks of lockdown, deals were aborted or got put on hold, development projects went on a go-slow, tenants were reticent to renew or complete leases and landlords were bombarded with requests for rent concessions or had to deal with defaulting tenants.
Developer clients have used the time to pause for thought and tidy up whatever issues (legal or otherwise) needed addressing in their property portfolios and have also taken the time to review strategy.
It hasn’t all been doom and gloom though as we have had some clients who have proceeded with their acquisitions or lease renewals on account of being in types of businesses that have actually benefitted from the current situation – a notable example of which is one of our clients who is a handwash and soap distributor who completed on a sizeable acquisition in the first few weeks of lockdown.
Now as we emerge from lockdown, commercial property activity is picking up – albeit tentatively.
In the commercial lettings market we are seeing a lot of tenants re-gearing their leases and those that are renewing are playing hardball with landlords, not so much on rent negotiation, but seeking to reduce space and wanting flexible break options.
It is also heartening to see that, for our more local clients, Swindon is attracting a lot of investment currently.
Notable examples of this in the town centre are the new Zurich head office development that has now started and the planning permission just obtained for a new Premier Inn Hotel.
Further afield, planning has also recently been granted for 2,500 new homes on 400 acres of the New Eastern Villages site.
There are various other development projects afoot locally that look really exciting too, particularly those to regenerate the town centre.
And then there is the huge ‘shed’, seven football pitches in size, to be built on the outskirts of town- future occupier unknown – possibly Amazon?
It certainly feels like Swindon is very much on the up currently and it will be interesting to see if, as is anticipated, the fall-out from this pandemic will be that large and medium businesses increasingly look west of London/Reading and further down the M4 corridor for cheaper land values, better geographic connectivity and improved quality of life for employees.
All of this looks great for Swindon and no wonder property investors and businesses generally are increasingly eyeing it up.
So, it’s not all doom and gloom.
© Thames Tap No 221 (powered by ukpropertyforums.com).
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