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Shortage of commercial property for small businesses across Kent

By Chris Price

As it marks 30 years of managing commercial offices, the six staff at Michael Parkes Chartered Surveyors have seen their fair share of booms and busts in the property market.

“A lot of companies suffered through the poor economy, but 30 years on we’re still going,” said Emma Catterall, head of property management at the firm based in Medway City Estate, Strood.

The company scaled back its staff from a pre-recession peak of 15 as the commercial property market came to a standstill. Today, its focus has become managing property rather than selling or letting it to firms.

Michael Parkes head of property management Emma Catterall, left, and managing director Denise Ford
Michael Parkes head of property management Emma Catterall, left, and managing director Denise Ford

“There’s a lack of supply,” said managing director Denise Ford. “Small businesses are doing well in the Medway towns, but there is not enough property for them in Kent.

“No one is prepared to build anything small. If we could get more property of 1,000 to 1,500sq ft it would fly off the shelves. It’s our most common inquiry.”

Sadly for Michael Parkes, a solution does not appear imminent. The problem is a perfect mix of growing companies looking for offices – upping demand – and developers held back from building them by high land prices and, in many cases, council opposition – lowering supply.

“The market has picked up rapidly since the end of the economic recession and many smaller companies are seeking low-risk options for their property needs,” said Paul Wookey, chief executive of Locate in Kent, which encourages firms to move to the county.

Locate in Kent chief executive Paul Wookey
Locate in Kent chief executive Paul Wookey

“This has led to an increase in the demand for serviced offices and most of Kent’s facilities are now near full capacity.”

Locate in Kent has begun looking at ways to speed up development in the county.

Canterbury-based developer Quinn Estates, which is working on 31 projects at present, is due to open its Beer Cart building in the centre of Canterbury next month.

It has already sold all its 14 flats, including, it says, the most expensive ever flat in the city, bought for just over £1 million. It has sold eight office units, covering 2,000 sq ft.

The former council offices in Beer Cart Lane in Canterbury have been transformed into apartments and offices
The former council offices in Beer Cart Lane in Canterbury have been transformed into apartments and offices

“There’s going to be a shortage of commercial space in Kent for a while because at the same time there is a severe shortage of housing,” said managing director Mark Quinn.

“You have two competing demands with a severely dwindling supply.”

That sentiment is also echoed in the west of Kent. Gallagher Group, based in Maidstone, is about to begin construction of 15 units for small businesses at Nepicar Park in Wrotham.

It bought the site more than three years ago but has only been able to make plans to build on it viably in the last 18 months. It has already had several inquiries.

Gallagher Group is about to begin construction of its Nepicar Park commercial premises in Wrotham
Gallagher Group is about to begin construction of its Nepicar Park commercial premises in Wrotham
Gallagher Group chief executive Nick Yandle
Gallagher Group chief executive Nick Yandle

“There’s definitely a need,” said chief executive Nick Yandle. “The economy is improving and a lot of small businesses consider owning their own business premises as a good investment for their pension, rather than paying dead money in rent.

“The problem is there is growing demand and reducing supply with so many employment sites being given over for residential development.”

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