'When Stockley Park burst onto the scene in the late 1980s, the UK’s first out-of-town business park stood out like a sore thumb among the identikit-grey, concrete buildings that made up much of the country’s existing office stock.
The Bower at Stockley Park
The park celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and although the existing concept continues to hold its own, with little changes being made in the last three decades - a testament to its original design - a new stage in its evolution is under way.
Aberdeen Investment Management is investing in a large-scale modernisation at the park’s 4 Longwalk, while M&G Real Estate is soon to finish the refurbishment of 5 The Square. More excitingly, a brand-new speculative development - the first in 15 years - is about to launch.
In September, developer Exton Estates - funded by Rockspring Property Investment Managers and Clearbell Capital - will unveil The Bower, a redevelopment and extension of an existing building that had reached obsolescence; all but the frame will be new.
Property Week caught up with the developer Stuart Bedford and appointed agents Emma Goodford of Knight Frank and Simon Glenn of Dowley Turner Real Estate (DTRE) to discuss the park’s progress to date and find out why it is kick-starting a new programme of development now.
Stockley Park - sprawling over 150 acres in an enviable location little more than a stone’s throw from Heathrow airport - was the brainchild of Peter Jones, then of Trust Securities. He bought a seven-acre industrial estate on Dawley Road in Hayes in the early 1980s and saw an opportunity in the adjacent council-owned rubbish tip.
Once the masterplan had been worked up, it became clear that it was too big a job for a small developer like Trust Securities. The costs were huge - £40m alone to clear the wasteland and create a 300-acre country park and golf course (which now border the business park) with the spoil. Sir Stuart Lipton, Elliott Bernerd and Jacob Rothschild entered the frame and brought the plans to fruition, creating a high-quality, US-style landscaped office development with buildings by Geoffrey Darke, Norman Foster and Eric Parry among others.
The majority of the site’s 26 buildings are wholly original and all - apart from those where construction is under way - are occupied. Corporations are drawn by its proximity to Heathrow and occupiers include Apple, Canon, Marks & Spencer, IBM and GlaxoSmithKline.
The city centre versus out-of-town business park ‘war for talent’ debate rages on, but Exton and its leasing partners Knight Frank and DTRE are confident they will attract an occupier - or several - quickly. Although Exton and its backers are not quoting a rent, they are hopeful it will achieve a headline rent for the Thames Valley region.
Stockley Park’s 4 Roundwood and other buildings under construction in the 1980s
Exton Estates acquired the biggest building and the largest site on Stockley Park - it will offer the largest single floorplate in the Thames Valley and will be the largest development in the region’s office market in 2016 - affording it the luxury of space. With the expertise of architecture practice ESA, the original building’s floorplate has been extended from 123,000 sq ft to 144,000 sq ft by adding two wings to the front that are new-build on ground, first and second floor. Each floor will be the size of a football pitch and the internal reception area has been completely re-orchestrated to provide an impressive 6,500 sq ft entrance. A canopy will extend over the entrance between the two wings, creating an informal meeting area sheltered from the elements, and yellow and bronze cladding will lend it a signature look.
“This will give us a modern, easier, British Council for Offices-compliant floorplate,” says Bedford, joint owner and property director at Exton Estates. “The idea in these matters is to be as flexible as possible, which we believe we are achieving here.”
Catering for all
As Glenn, who heads up office agency at DTRE, explains, the building has been designed to be “absolutely perfect” for a single occupier but can also take up to 12 tenants should it need to. “Someone might come along and need 25,000 sq ft and feel at home in a fairly big office requirement; they could come in and take 80,000 sq ft, or they could take the whole thing,” he says. “We are catering for all size ranges should we need to.”
The aim is to bring the quality of a West End office to Stockley Park but for significantly less than the rental and operational cost of an office in the city centre.
“The savings between this location and the West End if you look at it over 10-15 years runs into, literally, hundreds of millions, so there’s a big cost differential there,” says Emma Goodford, head of EMEA tenant representation and national offices at Knight Frank.
She also says its reputation as a prestigious business park - reflected by the quality of the buildings, the environment, the management regime, the transport connections and the calibre of the tenants - make it an attractive option for potential occupiers.
As for The Bower’s likely occupier, or occupiers, Stockley has always been popular with corporates but it is also attracting trendy media and tech businesses with young workforces. IMG Sports Marketing, for example, has recently relocated from its building in Chiswick to an office on the park’s Longwalk.
“Business parks have been a bit maligned by the people who say it’s all about recruiting cool, young people who want to work in city centres and fall into the bars in the evening; that’s not necessarily the case,” says Goodford. “There are a lot of trendy young people who work on Stockley Park who probably go home to their families and are very happy to fall into their cars and be able to do that.”
Knight Frank research found that 65% of take-up in the Thames Valley so far this year has been on business parks and the trend over 10 years shows that 55% of take-up across the whole of the M25 region is on business parks. “That says to me that the business park is far from being consigned to history,” says Goodford.
Stockley Park’s location is soon to become more desirable too. It will sit between two Crossrail stations - Hayes & Harlington and West Drayton - which is one of the reasons that Exton targeted the project.
Both stations, and particularly Hayes & Harlington, are in locations where there is no big pre-existing office pitch and where there is unlikely to be big office developments appearing immediately around the station; instead any spare land will be ring-fenced for residential stock.
“We are just at the front end of seeing the value of Crossrail being accepted by occupiers as being priced into rental value,” says Goodford. “There are locations on the Crossrail line that have seen some fairly decent spikes in terms of rental growth, and we’ve seen some fantastic rental growth in the Thames Valley, which is likely to continue.”
Vacancy rates in the region are around 6% for all grades of stock and 4% for grade-A stock, which accounts for more than 80% of take-up. “Really we’re almost at friction levels in terms of supply,” adds Goodford.
Stockley Park is evolving in other ways too, spawned partly by the sudden spate of activity on site. Exton and other stakeholders are working with the park managers on a rebrand to coincide with its anniversary, which will involve new branding, a new logo and new on-site signage. That will be rolled out over the next four to six months, fitting in nicely with The Bower’s September completion date.
Mixing business and leisure
A new park director has been hired and will start soon. Part of his remit will be to bring leisure activities to the site.
Deckchairs and bean bags will pepper the park’s green spaces and there will be a number of events - potentially including motor display days, summer barbeques, pop-up food stalls, a triathlon, an Easter egg hunt and a Christmas party - open to all occupiers’ employees.
“There’s a new drive to re-energise the community here and get people from all the different buildings involved,” says Bedford.
Stockley Park has seen a series of new requirements for take-up in the past 18 to 24 months, and with The Bower and refurbishment projects on site many millions of pounds are currently being pumped into it.
“We like to think those investors have the wisdom to put their money in the right place,” says Bedford. “Stockley is a continuing success story and it’s being rejuvenated on a greater scale now than it has been for a long time.”
Stockley Park has stood the test of time, but that does not mean it should stand still. New development means new life and the hope is that it will continue to be a leading business park for many years, even decades, to come.'
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