Those who remember Vodafone moving into its new campus in 2002 might raise an eyebrow at news of the mobile phone giant ditching half of it 20 years later.
Homeworking had looked set to reshape the office market many years ago but the change was slow until Covid lockdowns forced the issue.
Now Vodafone has widely-varied options for the excess space and, with the huge decked car parks either side of the campus, it’s hard to know what would be the most sensible. A nice problem to have, no doubt.
But rather like the Great Brighams Mead office building in Reading, which was acquired by a residential developer 20 years after it was built, the Vodafone decision illustrates the remarkable pace of change.
In the early days of the internet, there was little clarity how the future would unfold but it’s unlikely many would have thought it would enable such rapid change that major developments could last little more than two decades.
Another much-changed situation, although perhaps not internet-related, is that of Oxford United.
When work started on the club’s new stadium at Minchery Farm in 1998, there must have been great optimism for the future. But work was stopped at one point and the three-sided ground, which eventually opened in 2001, now has multiple issues so relocation at the end of its lease in 2026 has been somewhat forced.
Much hinges on the proposed site for the club’s next new stadium at Stratfield Brake as there are few alternatives left. Who, in 2001, would have thought this would be the situation now?
Twenty years ago who could have foreseen the prospect of laboratories at the site of the Clarendon shopping centre in Oxford? It was only five years ago that the Westgate opened. Even then, retail on the high street was still thriving.
Even off the high street, Botley Road Retail Park is set to lose a large unit to a laboratory development.
And not so long ago, in response to a much-changed market, Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council abandoned a proposed outlet village as part of its redevelopment at Basingstoke Leisure Park.
Almost 20 years after launching, Oxfordshire property consultant VSL has been acquired by CBRE, the end of another era, although there are reasons to be cheerful as it means the VSL team, one of the most friendly in property circles, remains intact under its new management.
There are, no doubt, more changes to come. With Stantec acquiring Barton Willmore, which both have offices in Reading, and rumours of Vodafone merging with Three, not to mention the colossal scale of current and recent world events, and considering the pace of change in the last 20 years, it would be close to impossible to predict anything in the next 20.
But we’ll continue to try.
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