Russell Davies, partner at law firm Smith Partnership, shares his views on office space in the city centre.
A few years ago now, at one of those always inspiring Annual Business Events organised by Marketing Derby, the subject of discussion was “Suits on the Street”. The point was made that, as a city, Derby had a particularly low percentage of office workers on the street during a lunch hour compared to other cities. Marketing Derby and the City Council recognised this as a disadvantage, and one that they wanted to put right.
One of the products of that policy was the flagship Copper Building which was built speculatively a few years ago, with the intention of housing a corporate headquarters. Thankfully, the building is now home to the impressive University of Derby Law School.
The benefits of Suits on the Street are obvious. Office workers spending money in shops, cafes and sandwich bars at lunchtime is great for the retail economy of the city. All this has been brought to my mind over the course of the last 6 to 12 months. I should explain why. The lease on our office building comes to an end in the next 12 months. About 12 months ago, we began to consider where we would like to relocate our business for the next 5 to 10 years. In any event, the end of our current lease seemed a sensible time to start thinking about whether or not we wanted to move and, if so, where we wanted to relocate.
Like any business, where we are located is an important decision for us. It reflects all sorts of things about our business, and it is always important to see these things through the eyes of your clients. Marketing Derby and the City Council are very keen for us to remain in the city centre.
We have looked at various locations but what we hadn’t expected, was the dearth of good quality office space in the city centre.
Over recent years, there seems to have been a headlong rush to city centre living, with many smaller office blocks (including those adjacent to our own) being converted to apartments. There are some new build projects underway, but unfortunately none of them are likely to become available before the end of our lease, despite the best efforts of the City Council.
In January, at the Innes England Property Review of 2016, Nick Hosking bemoaned the lack of available office space in Derby. Our search for new premises has certainly borne out that comment. Unfortunately, I am not able to offer any solution to this particular problem. There are others far more expert than me who may have some ideas, but I guess they can all agree that there is no simple solution.
It is, however something which the city needs to address, and quickly. A lack of usable, affordable city centre office space will simply drive firms such as ours out of the centre, to the detriment of the city.
It would indeed be ironic if all the workers moved to city centre living, only to find there were no offices to employ them, resulting in them having to drive out of the city centre to find work.
We are currently working closely with a landlord to secure a prime city centre office space – watch this space!