If you think of mass urbanisation, you may hark back to Geography lessons at school and your mind may conjure up examples of the rapidly developing cities and economies of, say, Beijing, Delhi or Mexico City.
Yet something equally significant is happening right here in the Thames Valley.
Looking behind the take-up statistics in the last three years, Vail Williams’ analysis of dozens of transactions shows there is an increased frequency of companies relocating towards Reading – in some cases this is an office move as small as half-a-mile closer to the town’s station, in others, we are seeing corporate relocations of significant distances.
Further analysis shows key sector differences, with companies operating in the pharmaceutical and TMT sectors generally seeking to consolidate space with each move, while professional services appear to be growing.
Take Virgin Media, which intends to relocate to 120,000 sq ft on Green Park – 14 miles from Hook, and Iqvia which is moving three miles to the north to Reading town centre.
These are two of many large corporates looking to Reading as a place to base themselves.
Add to this Bayer’s relocation from Newbury, Sanofi is moving from Maidenhead and Guildford, SSE from Basingstoke and Thatcham, and we start to tell the story of a Reading which is not only thriving, but is becoming the one of the fastest growing regional economies in the UK.
The list goes on: Becton Dickinson; Thales; Hammerson; Objective Corporation; KPMG; Ericsson; Pepsico; Huawei; Capita; BDO; Moore Stephens.
Taking the headline numbers, Reading has attracted in excess of 5,000 new employees. So it is understandable that it is ranked second in the Demos-PWC Good Growth for Cities Index; highlighted in the Tech Nation Report and is forecast to be the fastest growing ‘city’ in the UK until 2021 in the recent EY Regional Economic forecast report.
Listening to occupiers about the reasons for their location in Reading and its environs, there are a few consistent themes. Connectivity and transport links, with the much-anticipated Elizabeth Line, the commencement of the M4 smart motorway upgrade and access to talent for recruitment and retention with studies showing Reading in the top three cities for productivity and GVA per worker.
In support of demand, the area has a good supply of office space with reasonable rents. Developers and landlords are working hard to enhance in the experiences for occupiers.
We are witnessing a real polarisation in demand in the market between high profile, high quality workspace and highly accessible, amenity-rich business parks leaving a no-man’s land of secondary locations in between, where once obsolete offices are being converted into residential flats.
We need to ensure that its facilities and transport infrastructure keep pace in order to support its growth and vibrancy into the future.
David Thomas is a Partner at Thames Valley-based property consultancy Vail Williams LLP