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Scale-up Office Space – an open letter

Published on February 1, 2018

As you will have discovered from my previous blogs and events, availability, affordability and suitability of office space is considered to be a significant challenge, a hygiene factor if you will, for fast-growth businesses in the West of England. In partnership with Business West, I am looking for Scale-up founders who would like to put their head above the parapet and sign an open letter, to demonstrate the need for better provision of scale-up friendly space in the region.

To sign the letter, simply email me (Briony.Phillips@engine-shed.co.uk) stating your enthusiasm and support for the initiative.

*** Letter starts ***

Dear Tim, Marvin and Steve,

We are writing to you as fast-growth tech focused companies based in Bristol and the West of England. We have chosen to base ourselves here, we love Bristol and we appreciate and benefit from its many strengths as a thriving, connected and diverse city.

We are however worried about the availability, affordability and suitability of the space that our businesses and sectors need to grow and remain competitive in a global marketplace.

Over the past few years, space suitable to our current and future needs has reduced, become more expensive and the type of space we require to fulfil our growth plans is increasingly hard to find. Some of us now face options that are very unattractive for our businesses due to the lack of choice in the market – speculative office space rather than space tailored to the needs of companies like us.

We believe this is due to a number of factors – our growing business and employment base, growing competition for brownfield sites, a lack of available employment land both within the city centre and in the expanding north fringe, more expensive land prices and the rise of student accommodation and other non-office uses removing cheaper office space via Permitted Development Rights. As a result commercial developers are generally unwilling to develop appropriate accommodation, both in the city centre and north Bristol where our businesses, and our staff, want to locate.

We believe this situation is now harming our ability to grow and poses a threat to our respective sectors. It is a particularly pressing current problem for the start-up businesses who want to leave incubator space and ‘scale up’ into larger business units – the businesses that are most important in driving our long-term economic success.

We have some very successful developments supporting early stage businesses – Engine Shed, Unit DX, Future Space, Bristol and Bath Science Park to name the obvious examples but there are others.  Even these are rapidly reaching saturation and there will a real need to add to capacity.  Critical as well is grow-on space for businesses which need a larger footprint than these facilities are able to provide. Increasingly we see our most successful grow-on businesses having to look to the standard offer of (over-priced) commercial office and commercial premises when what is needed is more innovative and imaginative provision to support the continued development of our most dynamic companies.  We have the possibility to create a new and dynamic ecosystem for are most successful tech-based businesses.

We ask you to:

  • Review the long term plans of the West of England to ensure enough employment space is being provided for our city centre through its formal spatial plans
  • Investigate the role of Permitted Development Rights in removing office stock, raising land prices – and whether restrictions on PDR or other interventions could be introduced to safeguard remaining employment space.
  • Consider WECA or Bristol City Council taking a head lease on a building that would allow a multi-occupancy operator to move into the city and create suitable grow-on space that is so desperately needed.
  • Look at how Bristol can ensure a greater supply of ‘Grade B’ or smaller scale office space (between 5- 10,000 sq ft)
  • Work with the Universities, workspace providers, local authorities and developers to provide solutions, new development and greater diversity within our current offer to businesses aimed in particular at meeting the needs of our dynamic, scale-up businesses graduating from our excellent facilities for early-stage entrepreneurs.
  • And finally, but crucial, not forgetting the need to build on provision for early-stage entrepreneurs – Engine Shed 2 will be a key element but there is wider need and demand across the city region.

We would value the chance to meet and discuss these issues with you and your teams

*** Letter ends ***

If you have other queries about this project, please contact Matt Griffith at Business West – matt.griffith@businesswest.co.uk

If this is a topic close to your heart, you also might be interested to attend this Property Forum organised by Insider Media at TLT‘s office in Bristol.

__________________

This blog series tells the story of the Scale-up Enabler, Briony Phillips. Briony joined the Engine Shed team on a 1 year contract in June 2017 funded by Business West, Engine Shed, The University of Bristol and the West of England Growth Hub. This group have a shared ambition – first, to identify scale-up businesses in the West of England region and to better understand their challenges and second, to design, facilitate and support initiatives that will make it easier for businesses to scale-up more effectively – in the long term.

Links and information are correct as of February 2018.

Briony – Scale-up Enabler
briony.phillips@engine-shed.co.uk
@BrionyPhi1