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27/05/2016

Creating workspace that works

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Office space / iStock_000087395273

Workspace is under threat, not least from permitted development rights, says Lisa Taylor. what can we do to ensure we're creating enough of the right working spaces for our changing demographics and shifting work patterns?

Employment space is being eroded by what feels like a ‘take no prisoners’ prioritisation of housing. The most zero-sum element is office-to-home conversions under permitted development rights, with threats from opportunity areas like Old Kent Road, growing awareness of back-of-high-street value, and high-level murmurs about reclassifying strategic industrial land. The market is no help. Rising rents are driving big-floorplate employers from Barnet to Basingstoke, and artists’ studios from Bermondsey to Bristol.

Commercial operators have arrived, with shiny, higher-rent offers like The Collective and WeWork challenging the scrappy ethos of operators like Bootstrap Company or the Hackney Wick and Fish Island clusters. Big serviced-office providers like Workspace Group are lambasted by small outfits for converting property to residential use, and for, well, being big and commercial.

There are glimmers of hope. Recognising the risks, local enterprise partnerships, EU funds and the Greater London Authority are all directing regeneration grants to workspace provision. Councils like Islington are using planning powers to resist indiscriminate office-to-homes conversion, and there is growing appetite for flexible space at all tenures and rates.

Future of London has been delivering workspace programming since 2014, and in 2016 is producing visits, case studies and a matching event on “workspace that works” for our members.

"Rising rents are driving big-floorplate employers from Barnet to Basingstoke"

This group of councils, housing associations, the GLA, Transport for London and development trusts owns and/or manages thousands of properties. They pick partners to serve priorities from economic development and employment to area regeneration and place marketing – rarely on purely commercial terms.

While willing to use public assets and engage with operators, these groups often don’t know much about workspace options. The developers they work with are also in the dark; they want the buzz of tech or creative SMEs in their premises, but aren’t sure where to turn.

Both host groups need clear mechanisms for finding and installing workspace operators, and confidence that those operators will be reliable and add value. Broader factors are also being explored: location (access, population), planning (how will the council use its assets, or talk with developers to prioritise affordable workspace?), design, and cost-effectiveness (rates relief? Services provision?).

Reports of the death of affordable workspace are exaggerated. There are opportunities if operators, occupiers, councils and developers talk can build trust.

To learn more about Future of London, contact Alexei Schwab at alexei@futureoflondon.org.uk.

Lisa Taylor is director of independent policy network Future of London

Image credit | iStock

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