Swindon is poised to capture occupiers considering moving out of London, guests heard at the latest UK Prop Social event.

Renata Lovat Short, senior associate at Swindon law firm and Thames Tap partner Clark Holt, told almost 70 guests attending the online Swindon Social on October 7 that the town had many storage, distribution and warehouse occupiers.

But she added: “Office-wise, does it attract enough? It could attract more, it could do much more I think too, certainly in the current climate, to capture that wave of people who are thinking of coming out of London – maybe having a small HQ in London, but having a majority of their workforce outside. I always wonder why Swindon hasn’t had more of that.”

Ms Lovat Short said, while the industrial market is ‘quite alive’ there are some delayed decisions in the office market and some occupiers are taking shorter leases.

She went on: “Various people are thinking ‘do we really need to be in London? Do we need to be in Reading? Should we be coming further afield?’ – and Swindon needs to capture that market.”

She reported a mixed overall picture which, she predicted, would settle, but she added: “You can’t help but think that Swindon really needs to take its opportunities. There is a big opportunity, now, for it to start to attract more developers and investors – people who have done the Reading market, they’ve done the Oxford market, they’ve done the Bristol market. Why not Swindon markets?

“It does feel as though things are changing and, given all the things that the council are doing at the moment, – which is very encouraging and it’s great to see that they are leading the way on this – it feels as though things are about to change. So, in the longer term, it’s all looking very positive.”

Earlier John Keppel, chief operating officer for insurer Zurich, explained its move a short distance to a new 100,000 sq ft building, part of the Kimmerfields development. It will then consider the future of some of its other sites around the UK.

Zurich surveyed staff about their working preferences and Mr Keppel said he forecasts  a very different type of office occupation post-Covid.

He said: “Nearly 70 per cent of them of them said they would see home working as a material part of their future working week.

“That’s not to say they wanted to become home workers, but they certainly saw that home working was something that would work for them, is working for them and offers them some advantages.

“So we will definitely see a hybrid future for pretty much the majority of our workforce. And that’s going to change the volume of people that are in our offices and the purpose that they’re coming to offices for. So we are looking at reconfiguring some of our locations for higher degrees of collaboration bias as opposed to individual contribution bias.”

The meeting heard Swindon Borough Council had helped Zurich relocate and the authority’s head of town centre development, Emma Gee, said the council is looking to partner with a number of organisations including Government, employers, land owners and retailers.

She said: “Within the town centre some of the retail owners, for example, need to evolve – they need to change.

“They know that and they’re primed to do that, and what we need to do is enable them to make changes, to be innovative and start to focus on that more experiential offer which is harder to compete with in some of those other channels.

“So, we are engaging in effective public, private partnerships.”

Ms Lovat Short lamented the loss of what she called ‘homegrown talent’ where students leave Swindon to attend universities elsewhere but don’t return while Swindon employers are attracting graduates who commute into the town.

Ms Gee said while the town does not have its own university, it has partnerships with a number including Oxford Brookes.

And one new educational resource is on its way.

She said: “I think the investment from Government of £20 million in the Institute of Technology, which is just North of Kimmerfields, over the railway, will be a massive boost to Swindon over the next couple of years.”

The full webinar can be seen here.

Image (l-r): John Keppel, Renata Lovat Short, Emma Gee.

© Thames Tap No 229 (powered by ukpropertyforums.com).

Sign up to receive your free weekly Thames Tap newsletter here.