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Member blog: City centre v out-of-town business locations: place-making challenge


Read our latest member blog, by Emily Cockle who is Regeneration and Development Manager at Hampshire County Council

City centre v out-of-town business locations: place-making challenge

There are justifiable arguments for the survival of both the city centre business district and for the out-of-town business park. There are certainly good and bad examples that can be cited for both of these commercial environments.

Local authorities can influence market supply and attraction through the charging of business rates and in the provision of good quality stock, either through private investment or by directly delivering new supply into local markets. Demonstrating strong relationships with existing businesses will certainly help to influence both expansion and retention.

In many urban cores, there is a current shortage of good quality office stock, which is preventing existing businesses from retaining a foothold in their town or city. Developers who can readily secure more generous business environments with landscaped grounds and plentiful parking, with more competitive rental and business rates, are providing the much needed space for businesses to grow.

One of the key attractions in my workplace is its location in a highly desirable city centre with accessibility to parks, good quality shops, cafes and restaurants on my doorstep at lunchtime and for after work. For me, a soulless business park with a limited and predictable choice of places to lunch is not appealing. However, not all business parks fall into this description. Increasingly, out-of-town business environments are diversifying their offer, for both the commuter and for the local population, providing more mixed-use development with housing, offices, hotels, leisure and retail.

Where traditionally business parks have been secured on cheaper land away from urban collectives and public transport infrastructure, there is now more thoughtful consideration being ploughed into their kerb appeal. By mirroring some of the attractions of urban centre locations, with a range of facilities and diversity of offer, business environments are merging with other uses to support more thoughtful place-making.

Businesses who have dual functions can choose to have a city centre front-of-office base, whilst operating more land-hungry research and development space within a more peripheral environment. Accessing the talent pool is predictably easier if the business is located within a higher density area served by good public transport links, which pulls in workers seeking a more vibrant location. What isn’t attractive is negotiating excessive urban congestion both during peak commuting hours and during the day for more mobile staff, or those business locations which cannot be directly accessed by public transport, particularly for staff travelling from more rural communities.

If businesses located within an urban district had equitable access to high grade offices, which healthily competed with rents elsewhere, would this be enough to slow down the spread of out-of-town developments? Employers in urban locations help to support the local spending power and business rates for local authorities, as well as provide a diversity of population and an added attraction to town and city centres.

There is no right or wrong approach to business diversification. If public sector influence and private investment does not support and provide new stock in urban areas, businesses cannot be blamed for locating to out-of-town environments. The question is whether businesses would, if they could, choose to stay in their town or city centre or whether some merely prefer the more generous space, parking and more competitive rates offered from out-of-town business parks.

Future markets will be secured by locations which provide an attractive suite of options, both speculatively and tailored to business needs. Areas which fail to do will be because of time spent talking shop, rather than opening shop.

Currently the majority rule in location decisions lies with the HR departments and heads of service, which are driving choices based on cost efficiencies and availability of supply. Not the personnel, who may not be consulted upon where their employer locates. Workers do however have autonomy, where there are healthy employment markets, as to whether they stay with a business.

The location of a company is therefore a crucial attraction in the securement and retention of its staff, which should not be underestimated. Ultimately it will be workers who can readily support and access a variety of disciplines and business environments, which will drive key investment decisions for talented and thriving organisations.

Emily Cockle is Regeneration and Development Manager at Hampshire County Council

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