Fibre-optics crucial for business park success

Copyright: David Lawson– first appeared Property Week Sept 1999 

Home page

A major US company is understood to have chosen  an ageing building on a Thames Valley business park in the UK at rents almost 50% above new space offered in the Midlands after costing the installation of high-capacity data lines. Another is reconsidering a location in Manchester after discovering the nearest fibre optic connection is more than a mile away.

  High-speed data lines have become the motorways of the Nineties. At one time you were sure of attracting tenants if next to a major road. Many companies now rely on wires as much as  cars, and the pendulum is likely to swing even further as the Internet is more widely accepted and environmental controls squeeze out road traffic.

  High-value business parks in the south geared to high-tech tenants  have been laying in data connections for years but this trend  has now widened. Taylor Woodrow is fitting ducting as a standard feature in the first buildings on its 200,000 sq ft Christie Fields office park in south Manchester.

  Tenants can pull in cables if they are needed. The company is still costing the possibility of wiring  up buildings rather than just providing pipes, but it does not want to predetermine which service supplier tenants must use.  'We will also be running ducts to the centre of the site so it does not have to be dug up later,' says development surveyor Emma Cordingley.

  Taywood has  around 46,500 sq metres (500,000 sq ft) of speculative business space on the drawing board in the north, and this kind of added service is likely to become a standard provision. 'It is not particularly whizzy in technical terms, nor will we charge extra rents,' says Cordingley. 'It is a response to what tenants are demanding and should give an edge in letting space.'

  Stockley Park near London’s Heathrow Airport has long been a laboratory for new ideas in building design and technology. It seems fitting that another mould is being broken through the creation of a  building which could reflect the latest big change in office use.

  Serviced space is predicted by some  to become the norm for the 21st century as telecommuting, short-term contracts and flexible working take over from giant administration factories. So far, this has meant pouring new wine into old bottles. Business centres have been fitted into buildings conceived for more traditional use.

 HQ Business Centres and its partner Mercury Asset Management have started from a clean sheet with No 6 The Square, however. This is the first building designed specifically for serviced offices. The narrow floorplates and low gross-net ratio produced by designers Arup Associates would break the heart of any conventional developer but the prediction is that this is what the market will demand in future.

 The ground floor would cause no palpitations: it is a 20,000 sq ft plate with 18 metres between facades,  capable of handling a large operation. The upper three floors are more controversial, however. They have been cut back to provide an office-corridor-office profile in  13.5 metres.

 'We worked out a variation on the cruciform shape used in 2 and 3 The Square,' says HQ director Julian King. Filling the cross on the ground floor gives the extra space.

 The aim was to provide the variety of uses needed in serviced space, ranging from small offices through to open-plan. Tenants tend to move through this range quickly and HQ wants to be able to accommodate them in one block.

 There is a potential for 170 cellular offices but King does not expect to see this, as tenants on ultra-short  leases will cut and slice space in varying amounts to suite their needs.