There’s an irony about the shrinking footprint of the tech sector in the Thames Valley.
Dell’s departure, along with the shrinking or disappearance of the likes of Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Oracle and Vodafone marks a reversal from 20 years ago when those businesses were eating up hundreds of thousands of square feet of the best offices.
The Silicon Valley of the UK was our proud moniker. But that very technology enabled people to work from home – or anywhere else – and is increasingly taking over the jobs of humans. So the demand for all that space has quickly evaporated.
Meanwhile the increased demand for data centres seems to illustrate the point quite well. We need fewer people at desks and more giant warehouses full of computers and cables.
The need for technology hasn’t reduced but the world is a different one to when Cisco was taking unbelievable amounts of space at Green Park before surrendering half a million square feet 10 years ago, having never used it.
At the moment there seems an insatiable demand for laboratory space and many millions of pounds are pouring into that sector, especially in Oxfordshire.
There seems little that would slow that demand but if tech has proved anything, it’s how quickly things can change in this day and age. Huntley & Palmers occupied a huge chunk of Reading for around 130 years but it would be hard to imagine any company which could keep such a large site in operation for the next 130.
But that might be a good thing. Although lettings are now generally much smaller than during the dotcom era, the overall economy is surely better placed to weather the various storms that lie ahead if it is made up of a diversified range of small operators.
There seems to be a strange mix of satisfaction and anguish over the future of the Oasis Leisure Centre in Swindon.
Listing the building has thwarted plans to build a new leisure centre there and the council seems to maintain a downbeat view, even regarding the possibility of Levelling Up Fund money to do something with it.
Those of us in Reading witnessed a similar scenario on a smaller scale with Thames Lido which stumped the council for 40 years. Even before it was listed the council didn’t know what to do with it.
It took great imagination to turn a vandalised eyesore into something so good it now figures in the town’s promotional literature.
Even if Swindon Borough Council gets the £8 million it is seeking, it will need more than money to make the Oasis a success. But a council that just wanted to demolish it doesn’t appear to have the creativity to do anything more exciting.
Let’s hope the Swindonians who campaigned to save it, are still around when something eventually happens to it.
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