Norwich is ‘in danger of driving away businesses,’ say property agents
Norwich is in danger of losing business investment because of a shortage of good quality commercial premises and an increasing number of road closures.
That was the stark warning from commercial property partners after it emerged one of Norwich's most impressive buildings, Hardwick House, on Agricultural Hall Plain, is now up for rental. No buyer can be found for the building, recently vacated by Savills, and it is now available for rent for a sum in the region of £80,000 per annum.
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The reaction on twitter to the Hardwick House story was that 'commercial rents are too high' together with business rates which 'disable rather than enable growth.' Another comment states: 'Offer cheap rents to attract and keep businesses in the city centre. Failing that, the council should buy it (Hardwick House) and make good use of it.'
However, commercial property agents say higher rents need to be achieved to encourage more investment from developers.
And it comes at a time when Norwich faces increased traffic congestion as a result of Christmas shoppers as well as the implementation of a programme of road and lane closures around the city as part of the Transport for Norwich scheme to encourage more use of public transport, cycling and walking.
Guy Gowing, managing partner at Arnolds Keys, said: 'The council has to know there is a limit to how many roads can be blocked up. There is definitely a campaign to reduce car use and encourage more shoppers and in December the road queues are at their worst but the council needs to understand that Norwich is in danger of losing its attraction as a business destination if they keep closing it up.
'We don't want to be another Cambridge where business has been driven out of the city, we are a unique city for people who want to work here.
A lot of the road changes just don't seem to work, they cause hassle and frustration.'
However, he said he still thought Norwich was a popular office location because of its good facilities. 'There is a balance – if you move out of town and your only amenity is a Costa Coffee or a Hungry Horse, this compares less favourably than with staying in the city and having one of 150 different bars and restaurants to choose from so it's a compromise. While the city centre is so strong people will put up with the traffic.
'There was a massive over supply of offices in the 1970s and a huge chunk of those have come out and been converted to residential. We need upward pressure on rents to encourage developers as we need better quality offices.'
Nick Dunn, partner in the commercial department at Brown & Co, said: 'Everyone wants to be on the right side of this argument, wants to be green and environmentally sensitive and see less traffice but the harsh reality is that you can't prise people from their cars – and some firms like ours, you need to be driving because you need to be out and about looking at property.
'So the reality is that you shouldn't put too big a stranglehold on the option of getting in and out of the city otherwise you will drive business away.
'The whole debate of city centre versus out of town is nothing new, and there is space for both but rents in the city need to be more to give developers confidence they will get a return.
'Compared with London and Cambridge, we are cost effective as a location and that's part of our appeal but to get more new build development we need to achieve higher rentals.
'Everyone is looking at the bottom line.'
Savills recently vacated Hardwick House and moved to Lawrence House, St Andrews Street, near Cinema City, a building which has been fully refurbished offering plush new offices with a managed reception. David Merrick, head of the Savills Norwich office, said: 'The change of location within the city centre gives us the modern, efficient and adaptable base we need to serve our clients and staff.'