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A group of commercial property experts is calling on businesses to spend their cash on speculative office developments to deal with a shortage of work spaces for companies.
The Kent Developers Group has said it is time for the county to invest in new office, warehousing and distribution projects in light of data released by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
Its UK Commercial Market Survey said the availability of commercial property has fallen at its fastest rate since 1999, with 34% more surveyors reporting shortages.
The report also outlined sharp declines in the availability of office and industrial space, down 49% and 42% respectively.
Kent Developers Group – a collection of commercial and residential developers from across the county – has said those figures could get worse following changes to planning laws making it easier for commercial sites to be converted to residential property.
The RICS survey found the South saw the highest rise in the number of commercial properties being sold with so called Permitted Development Rights.
Kent Developers Group commercial property chairman James Speck – site director at Kent Science Park – said: “The supply of modern space available for immediate occupation is at low levels and unless we build more, and quickly, the county could lose out on attracting new companies.
“With demand from businesses for commercial property returning, and interests rates still low, now could be the right time for developers to consider investing in speculative development. Across Kent we are seeing a growing levels of enquiries.”
The groups’ fears are backed up by research from Locate in Kent, which says the county has seen a 10% reduction in supply of industrial property since July 2012, particularly in terms of small and large sized industrial units.
The number of units over 100,000sqft which are available have fallen by nearly 45%. Those ranging from 5,000sqft to 10,000sqft have fallen by 23% in the last two years.
In contrast, demand for units of 5,000sqft to 10,000sqft has risen by 175% over the same period.
Locate in Kent chief executive Paul Wookey said: “Small-sized town centre offices are an important part of Kent’s property mix and we continue to see a growing demand for serviced offices by overseas businesses as the first step to planning their larger long-term investment into Kent.
“While the conversions of former commercial offices may be making a much-needed contribution to the region’s under supply of new homes, local authorities will undoubtedly become concerned if business growth can no longer be accommodated – and hopefully be more open minded to permitting commercial development.”
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