BIRMINGHAM: Scott Rutherford, Partner, Office agency at Cushman & Wakefield in Birmingham
Whilst to be expected, we enter 2021 with significant caution given the uncertainty of the economic consequences of both the COVID-19 pandemic and our new trading relationships with the EU. However, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic for improving prospects within Birmingham and the West Midlands.
Whilst the majority of the city’s office-based workforce has been working from home, there has been some notable progress around the City Centre, with the construction of 103 Colmore Row and the Paradise development making visually impressive additions to the city core. Although there is an acknowledgment that there may be a higher degree of flexible and agile working in the near term, the collaborative and social element of the office will be attractive again and we will see the return of more employees into our cities once it is safe to commute.
The Grand Hotel is also complete and open prior to a major launch early in 2021. It is fantastic to see this former vacant space in heart of the CBD now filled with an impressive addition to the city’s hospitality sector.
The tram works to Centenary Square are now complete and will soon operate beyond Fiveways. The link via Digbeth to the new HS2 Station has also recently begun in earnest.
In addition, the prospect of further progress and preparations for the Commonwealth Games will give added focus to the improved feel of the City as we move towards the reality of the Games commencement in 2022.
In terms of property predictions, the reimagining and repurposing of some retail assets will be a significant driver of change and purpose - the House of Fraser building and its potential change of use is an example of how the structural change in our shopping habits, long before the pandemic, is transforming our city centres. Logistics continues on its steep growth trajectory and dominates the property headlines resulting in record rental levels (£8.00 +) and yield compression where we will see major transactions at sub 3.5%.Given the relative low level of office supply across the region we may see pockets of competition for new and existing supply across the region in the latter half of the year as occupiers crystalise their requirements and seek to acquire the best space available.
Overall, as we return to a greater feeling of normality, as well as a better work and life balance, Birmingham along with the other towns and cities will see its prospects improve in 2021.
BRISTOL: Tim Davis, Head of Cushman & Wakefield’s Bristol office
Bristol’s varied economic drivers suggest it should bounce back from the current economic downturn quicker than other regional cities.
Logistics and retail sectors are increasingly linked as the growth of e-commerce continues accelerated by COVID-19. The buoyant former is set be strong, while the latter is still looking for solid ground, with more CVAs likely post-Christmas. Retail will need to focus ever more on the customer experience in physical shops, with future placemaking and mixed-uses in our town centres essential.
In the office sector, the way we work has changed forever with increasing agility. However, although occupiers may reduce space occupied there is a ‘flight to quality’ and Bristol has one of the highest quality pipelines in the UK with delivery of outstanding buildings from Q4 2021. Coupled with this, we remain one of the UK’s tech powerhouses with a very strong demographic. All good indicators for a strong and growing city in 2021.
The public sector will continue to facilitate market activity, particularly in the residential sector, with Homes England, WECA and local authorities needed to play a part. The impressive growth of the University of Bristol will feed the need for further purpose-built student accommodation, although the current development pipeline lags well behind demand, creating further pressure on rental growth in the short-term. Moreover, we anticipate further mixed-use schemes coming forward in 2021 with scalable Build-to-Rent product, as the much-needed development pipeline continues to grow. 2021 should see the largest release of new product with around 495 apartments due to open.
LEEDS: Keith Hardman, Head of Cushman & Wakefield’s Leeds office
The economic impact of COVID-19 and Brexit (deal or no deal) make for an uncertain 2021. It’s likely that the full weight of Government both nationally and locally will continue to focus on economic recovery and efforts to mitigate impacts, particularly unemployment. The Chancellor’s spending review in November gave some clear pointers to investment priorities with a new economic campus and UK infrastructure bank to be based in the North of England and £50 billion+ committed to infrastructure improvements. There will be a push to commit investment in earnest to create tangible evidence of the Government’s pledge to deliver on the levelling up agenda.
Other predictions for the year ahead include:
- Additional measures and Government interventions over and above existing funding pledges and changes to the planning system, to address the decline of town centres, which has been turbo charged by the pandemic.
- Further reductions in retail values and high street occupier failures will tip the scales of viability positively in favour of alternative uses and bring into sharp focus the importance of place and the need to take a holistic approach to the survival of town centres. Asset repurposing will grow apace in consequence.
- The long overdue introduction of a sales tax to replace Business Rates applied to the high street. The failings of the current system and how it operates was spotlighted again by the voluntary return of Business Rate Relief by the large supermarket operators at the end of 2020.
- Environmental matters and the drive for carbon neutrality will become increasingly prevalent in occupier and investor decision making and selection criteria.
- Office take-up will bounce back over 2021. This is despite the adjustment employers will make to new ways of flexible working and how they use office space. Underpinning the upturn in demand is the importance businesses place on the office ecosystem for social, collaborative, wellbeing and creative purposes.
MANCHESTER: Caroline Baker, Head of Cushman & Wakefield's Manchester office
My five predictions for 2021 and beyond are:
- We will return to the office but in a different way – the office is not dead but our relationship with it has changed forever. When we return to the office it will be for meetings with colleagues and clients to brainstorm, make decisions and ensure we are developing our team’s culture and expertise. Focused individual time will be done from home or from a coffee shop.
- We will demand more from our homes – there will be a premium for outside and flexible space. The focus will be on access to open space (gardens/balconies) and flexible space that can adapt to changing requirements (dining room or office space and garden pods).
- We will need to significantly reduce our impact on the environment - we need to travel more sustainably and create buildings which are more energy efficient – working towards net zero carbon. There also needs to be a focus on tackling energy efficiency in our existing buildings, especially our homes.
- Our high streets need to be more flexible – the trends we were seeing in retail have been accelerated by COVID-19. There is no doubt the number of voids on our high street in 2021 will increase but the successful centres will be those that attract and support new occupiers who are responding to current demands.
- 2021 will be better than 2020 – it couldn’t be any worse. Could it?
NEWCASTLE: Richard Turner, Head of Investment at Cushman & Wakefield in Newcastle
The annual tradition of crystal ball gazing is very different this year with great clarity in some respects contrasting with fundamental existential questions on others.
Whilst the accelerated shift from the physical to the virtual world is clear its implications are sometimes not. What is clear is that the retail sector will never be the same again and a nation that was over-shopped pre-COVID will have to find innovative new ways to repurpose space or adapt to attracting footfall, or simply be demolished. That one of the country’s seven super malls, the Metro Centre has a near 20% vacancy rate illustrates the scale of this succinctly.
The industrial and logistics sector is on the other side of the coin; whilst it still needs to be viewed through the fog of Brexit (with the North East particularly reliant on access to European markets), it’s characterised by an acute shortage of space. Some speculative schemes are coming but most will not be delivered until 2022, with demand from central and last mile logistics continuing to soar rents and yields will continue to grow and tighten. The recent announcement of the Gigafactory planned for Blyth is evidence that the region can continue to adapt and thrive exploiting the opportunities in the zero-carbon economy.
In the office sector, 2021 will be a year of optimism within Newcastle’s prime market. With only 3 of the 7 floors at The Lumen remaining since it reached PC in April 2020. Supply of brand-new state-of-the-art office space will be limited, but the next 12 months should see completion of The Spark and the start of construction at Bank House and 1 St James’s, combining to deliver in excess of 300,000 sq ft over the next 24 months.
With the first of those building, The Spark, unlikely to be delivered much before the end of 2021, such a limited development pipeline means that occupiers with upcoming lease events will have to choose from a relatively select stock of existing Grade A, which totals just 160,000 sq ft. Against that backdrop, we expect rental levels and incentives to hold firm, with a good prospect that we will round out 2021 ahead on the current prime headline rent of £26.00 per sq ft. The first 2 months of 2020 saw significant demand starting to emerge as the result of a number of ‘north shoring’ projects coming forwards. We anticipate those enquiries being resurrected in the first half of 2021 as confidence returns and new inward investment opportunities arise.
As office occupiers struggle to entice staff back into the office, quality of offer around working environment and wellness will be key and as many occupiers downsize to reflect agile working cultures. This increasing pressure will fall on the secondary market with many older buildings becoming capital value traps, where the investment needed does not justify the likely returns leading to value falls and probable repurposing for most likely residential led uses.
SCOTLAND: David Davidson, International Partner and Chair of Cushman & Wakefield Scotland
The Scottish property market has had little to celebrate as we move to the year end, but we hope for increased activity once (1) we are permitted to return to our places of work and (2) our clients are permitted to inspect property. Hopefully both will happen in Q1 2021.
Meanwhile 2021 is election year for Scottish Parliament and Local Government and a strong showing by the SNP on 6 May will lead to greater pressure for a second Scottish Independence Referendum. Perhaps surprisingly, many of our clients are less fearful of the potential result than the first Referendum in 2014, as they have faced bigger political disruptions in the past 5 years than a small country like Scotland wanting to go its own way.
I predict a return of international capital in 2021 and that yields will remain strong for core office and logistics properties. However, the gap between prime and non-prime (particularly sub-10 year income) will widen.
SOUTH WALES: Rob Ladd, Partner, Industrial & Logistics at Cushman & Wakefield covering South Wales
The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertain outcome of Brexit negotiations remains a challenge and makes for an uncertain start to 2021.
During 2020, the South Wales’ industrial sector saw the closure of Bridgend Ford and the failure of Quinn Radiators (Newport). The Welsh Government made two high profile positive announcements concerning Ineos (Bridgend) and Britishvolt (St Athan) but unfortunately both significant projects were eventually lost to France and Northumberland respectively. The Welsh Government’s focus must remain on continuing to aid the recovery of the economy and to minimise the rise in unemployment.
Notwithstanding this, the logistics and industrial sectors have fared well during the last 12 months and, whilst we expect statistics to show that availability will increase in 2021, this will be heavily skewed by the previously mentioned two significant closures which will account for circa 2.6 million sq ft. Stripping these from the stats, the underlying trend remains very much one of reducing availability as supply levels fail to keep pace with take-up. Logistics and e-fulfilment in particular continues on its steep growth trajectory both in terms of take-up and rents and we expect this to continue into 2021 with some significant announcements of expansion in this sector. The one concern is the lack of high-quality modern facilities and the dearth of suitable sites for development, with the only notable speculative development under construction being 130,000 sq ft across two buildings at St Modwen Park in Newport.
2020 brought a rapid change to how we will work in the future. Improvements in technology facilitated far more agile working. Whilst we expect occupiers to review the amount of office space they occupy, it is acknowledged that the collaborative and social benefits of the physical office are important and we expect numbers to increase once it is again safe to commute. Better quality properties should be well placed to capitalise as occupiers crystallise their requirements and seek to ensure they secure the best available accommodation. L&G’s recent formal announcement of their 120,000 sq ft commitment to the Rightacres, Central Square scheme within The Interchange building, is an extremely positive example of this type of crystallisation strategy from a major UK employer.
The retailing sector will continue to be challenged. More CVA’s are likely to be announced in the New Year and there will be a need to focus on the repurposing of some retail assets and improving the customer experience in physical shops to ensure the survival of town centres.