Not dead, but definitely different. With the rise in hybrid and home working, the way the office is being used has changed forever. Here are a few key findings from a year nobody could really predict.
The tale of the take-up
Take-up of office space across the North West has picked up this year compared to a pretty barren 2020.
Video game developer Cloud Imperium took 87,000 sq ft at Allied London’s Manchester Goods Yard alongside Booking.com in one of the standout deals of 2021.
Circle Square was the big winner in terms of take-up. A glut of arrivals at Bruntwood SciTech’s recently completed Oxford Road development accounted for a sizeable chunk of Manchester city centre lettings in 2021, the highlight being Roku’s 120,000 sq ft deal.
An overall increase in take-up is hardly surprising – things couldn’t have got much worse following the washout of 2020.
However, in general the return of larger requirements has not yet materialised in the way agents would like.
In 2018, Manchester recorded take-up of 1.75m sq ft, the city’s record year. Booking.com took more than 200,000 sq ft, while HMRC and Royal London each took 157,000 sq ft at New Bailey and Alderley Park respectively.
If 2022 take-up is to reach anywhere near the levels of three years ago, stability is required.
With Covid continuing to linger, that the chances of that seem slim.
Refurbs and demolition
The changing needs of occupiers, a weighty focus on flexibility and wellbeing, and the increasing pressure to be carbon neutral have sparked landlords into action. A wave of refurbished accommodation is currently flooding the market and will continue to do so in 2022.
Refurbishments are great, but sometimes it simply isn’t possible to preserve old buildings, according to HBD.
The developer’s Island scheme should start on site in 2022 and, while HBD has extolled the efficiency of the building’s operational performance, the project involves the demolition of a number of old office buildings that are not fit for purpose.
Bruntwood is also going down the demolition route at Alberton House. The office block was built in the 1970s but plans are being drawn up for a new-build 18-storey development that will see the existing structure razed to the ground.
This project sees Bruntwood change tact on its so-far-successful Pioneer programme, which has seen 111 Piccadilly, Lowry House and Blackfriars House successfully refurbished.
Room to spare
Occupiers and landlords are finding themselves with more space than they need as both reassess their office requirements.
Avison Young has been appointed to market 74,000 sq ft of spare space at Co-op’s One Angel Square headquarters in Manchester after the company realised the modern, hybrid way of working meant it needed substantially less space.
Meanwhile, in Stockport, the council has pulled the trigger on plans to vacate Fred Perry House and let it out. The authority doesn’t need the space but likes the idea of boosting the revenue of its office portfolio.
As organisations with large footprints reassess their requirements, could this be a theme we see more of in 2022?
Flexing your muscles
Deloitte shocked everyone when it moved into WeWork-managed offices in 2020. The rise in demand for flexible workspace and the dwindling appeal of traditional leases has seen operators similar to WeWork looking at Manchester as a viable place to do business.
Both Gillbanks and X+Why are reportedly looking at taking space in the city while Bold and Orega have taken a combined 43,000 sq ft in Manchester this year, joining the likes of Hana and Clockwise.
Landlords like the texture a flex offer gives their buildings, while occupiers like not having to commit to long-term leases.
But one question remains. Is this a permanent change in occupier demand or simply a temporary one brought on by the pandemic?
Deloitte, which has spent more than a year in flex accommodation, is now searching for somewhere to put down roots, suggesting the larger corporates at least might not view flex as a viable long-term option.
Innovation and net-zero
Expect to see more innovation in the pursuit of net-zero workspace in the coming months. Eden at New Bailey, widely tipped to become Manchester’s greenest office building, should take big strides towards completion in 2022, with environmentally-conscious occupiers already looking on with interest.
Meanwhile, out of the city centre, Bruntwood is hard at work developing proposals for a ‘true’ net-zero, timber-framed office. Details are scant at this stage but the developer is excited about the project.
If schemes such as Bruntwood’s super-sustainable office are to become the norm, the development community must find a way around the barriers presented by the difficulty to insure timber-framed buildings.
Innovation is required in this space, too.
If Liverpool is to entice companies to the city it might do well to start developing offices speculatively.
This is happening at Paddington Village where plans for a 116,000 sq ft space dubbed Hemisphere are advancing following the success of the Spine.
Elsewhere the picture is not as rosy. Progress on Pall Mall, which lost a big BT requirement during the pandemic, has slowed while Peel L&P is reluctant to bring forward offices on a spec basis at Liverpool Waters, despite having outline consent to deliver 3.4m sq ft.
Peel told Place in January it wasn’t prepared to jump the gun on the office side of its plans.
One office success story to come out of Liverpool this year was the completion of HMRC’s new city centre hub at the India Buildings.
Next year we could see a similar project come forward just down the road. Kinrise bought the 210,000 sq ft Martins Bank Building in August and plans to give it an India Buildings-style makeover, opening the door for perhaps another government department later down the line.