Enquiries for office space in Bracknell have increased significantly as occupiers have become optimistic for the new year, according to one of the town’s leading agents.

Simon Fryer of Fryer Commercial says the fact the current lockdown has an end date has given hope to potential tenants and news of vaccines has given a further boost. IT, software, recruitment, education and medical businesses, he said, are all strong sectors.

Mr Fryer told Thames Tap: “New letting enquiries have increased significantly in recent weeks, resulting in a number of offices going under offer or the subject of serious interest.

“Supply is beginning to increase with some companies not renewing expiring leases, but there seems to be sufficient demand to take up the slack. Many companies seem more optimistic now about 2021 and beyond.

“I think many businesses are regarding this closed-ended lockdown as just a short pause, compared to the earlier one which had an uncertain ending. News of vaccines has definitely improved people’s demeanours.

“And most companies have been marking time for eight months which they can’t do forever, while, in the meantime, many leases are approaching expiry dates during 2021. So it’s time for many companies to start taking action to find more appropriate space for the new normal, whatever that may be.

“Some think many companies will downsize their office premises. But not all will, and some may need more for social distancing, such as call centres.”

Mr Fryer has analysed the figures for 2020, based on offices of 5,000 sq ft or more. Most of the year has been a challenge until recent weeks of more positive sentiment. But his findings show a marked contrast with the past.

He went on: “When I opened my Bracknell office in 2008, there was 2m sq ft of available offices in Bracknell, 33 per cent of total office stock, the highest at the time in the Thames Valley.

“That figure is now just 300,000 sq ft, only five per cent of total stock. In the intervening years, we have lost almost 1m sq ft in office-to-residential conversions as well as some being redeveloped into industrial or warehouse space such as Hewlett Packard’s Bracknell head office following the move to Winnersh.

“There were also many office lettings such as Honda Europe taking 60,000 sq ft in Reflex. This year, the largest office letting has been to Eli Lilly taking 40,000 sq ft in Arlington Square West.”

Mr Fryer is optimistic for the future of the office market. Permitted Development, allowing offices to be converted to residential with fewer planning obstacles, had already reduced supply significantly since 2014.

In Bracknell alone around 900,000 sq ft in 28 buildings was converted to residential (15 per cent of the town’s total office stock).

Factors he believes favour the office market include:

  • Human desire to socialise, especially among the young
  • Loneliness of working from home
  • Employers’ belief that home working is less productive
  • The symbolism of an office as a statement of the occupier’s attitude to life and business – part of their corporate image
  • Demand for larger offices, due to Covid and social distancing requirements of occupiers
  • Demand from this year’s record number of start-ups

Factors against include:

  • Time and cost of commuting
  • Fear of the spread of disease in an office and on the commute
  • The likely moves brought about by downsizing of firms who allow some continued homeworking
  • More flexible planning policies to encourage alternative uses for some office buildings

Mr Fryer added: “On balance, my opinion is that offices of some kind will continue to be needed by companies, the quantum of sq ft, though, is unknown. In, say, five years, 2020 may look far away in the past. Personally, I far prefer working in the office.”

Image shows the Arlington Square West building let to Eli Lilly.

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