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July 22, 2013

The Future of Offices in Bath

The architectural heritage which we all enjoy as part of Bath’s rich cultural tapestry is rightly protected under the Listed status of many of the buildings, the Conservation Area covering much of the city as well as the unique World Heritage Status bestowed upon Bath City Centre as a whole. It is no surprise therefore that the landscape of period buildings throw up various problems for occupiers.

DSC_0012Allan Lloyd, a commercial property expert at Colston & Colston Chartered Surveyors in Bath, has recently suggested what the future might hold for Bath’s somewhat outdated office accommodation.

Allan commented that “Bath has a legacy of period town houses often offering less than 2500 sq ft and rarely much more. As a broad brush rule of thumb, office occupiers need between 55-150 sq ft per person depending on how space intensive their use. If you take an average of 100 sq ft per person the result is that offices in Bath don’t offer many options for the larger business space occupier”.

Furthermore, Allan added that, “Bath’s Georgian town houses are often poorly converted and offer, in many cases, accommodation over 5 floors off a central staircase. They do not offer the type of dynamic and integrated working environment modern office occupiers require.”

Due to the relative scarcity of open plan accommodation, it is no surprise that many large occupiers choose Bristol and the surrounding Wiltshire towns as their regional base rather than Bath.

So what is the answer?

Over the last few years, since the realignment of office rents to more affordable levels, we have witnessed a good number of buildings with a reputation of providing badly configured office space being taken by serviced office operators who let the space on a room by room basis.

Although as Allan commented “Letting a period building to a service office operator can potentially effect its investment value, as such companies often require bespoke agreements that are not based on traditional commercial lease terms. The result is that landlords will sometimes shy away from letting their premises to service office providers.”

Allan says that this issue can be resolved “It is important to take professional advice in any commercial property transaction. We have recent experience of agreeing such lettings which provide well structured and equitable terms that retain or even enhance investment value. Service office operators are helping sole traders/small business move out of the home office and grow their businesses and such accommodation can potentially form the backbone of Bath’s future office community.”

Bath will never be able to compete with Bristol in terms of scale or national significance so we need to find out our ‘unique selling point’. As a creative and advanced technology hub, Bath offers a quality of life and a skilled workforce capable of competing with anywhere in the UK.

As Allan says “BANES should be commended for attempting to create such a hub for creative industry businesses at the Guildhall, but more can be done. It would seem therefore that for Bath to flourish once more Landlords and developers will have to take on some of the vision & dynamism that Bath was built upon, and embrace this untapped demand.”

The small business/sole trader community must not be underestimated. Some of the largest and most prominent of Bath’s businesses, Future Publishing and Lovehoney to name but two, are organically grown and have successfully tapped into a pool of local talent.