A surge in pre-letting has driven annual take-up of regional office space to the highest level on record, according to research from DTZ.
With occupiers increasingly active in H1 2015, the annual take-up volume outside London was 5.9 million sq ft – 35% above the long-run average. A sharp increase in pre-letting activity in the regional markets resulted in take-up of 1.2 million sq ft of Grade A space in H1 2015, 35% more than the same period a year ago.
In Bristol, demand for office space eased slightly in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period a year ago – in H1, 250,000 sq ft was transacted, which is 15% less than in H1 2014. Availability also fell by a third in the first half of the year to its lowest since 2002.
Andy Heath, Director, Office agency at DTZ in Bristol commented: “H1 was a steady six months following on from the frenetic H2 2014. Over the first six months of the year sentiment has been improving but without the statistical data to back it up. We expect the second half of 2015 to be a vast improvement on the first with pressure of demand beginning to grow and the supply of grade A stock at a record low. What is slightly surprising is that it will take until H1 2016 before any speculative development commences, which ‘opens the gate’ for a small number of pre-letting schemes to compete over the next six months.”
Alex Dunn, Senior UK Analyst at DTZ, said: “The surge in pre-letting activity has been enabled by an enlarged development pipeline following years of developer inactivity. Eight million sq ft of speculative space is due to be completed by 2019 – an enormous 138% increase in development compared to the last four years. Nonetheless, it is still 15% below the average pre-Crisis rate of delivery, which suggests developers are still acting relatively cautiously.”
Take-up is absorbing standing stock as well as yet-to-be-completed schemes and, with seven consecutive quarters of above average lettings activity, availability has continued to fall across all grades. Grade A availability has become critical in some regions, notably Leeds which has less than five months of Grade A supply left at prevailing take-up rates.
Ben Clarke, Head of UK Research at DTZ, said: “The short-term supply squeeze means many incumbent occupiers needing space immediately are leasing additional space elsewhere, rather than vacating and taking one larger premises. This is because availability is fragmented and larger chunks of space are currently very limited. The balance of power has definitely shifted towards landlords. We are seeing this translated into rent increases and also in less favourable lease terms. These include reduced rent free incentives, which have fallen by 12% since the beginning of the year to an average of 18 months on a 10 year commitment.”
Prime rents are forecast to rise by an average of 11% by 2019 as new, higher-quality projects come to market and competition intensifies over suitable available space. Rents in Birmingham and Manchester are expected to increase the most, by 14% each to £32.50 per sq ft and £36.50 respectively.
Ben Clarke added: “We continue to see strong investor interest in the UK regions, with a total transaction volume of £930m so far this year. This has been underpinned by the improvement in underlying occupier markets and the yield differential with London. Prime regional office yields moved in a further 36 basis points to 5.3% in the first half of 2015.”