West London is a region that operates in plain sight as a major business hub for the UK economy. From the trains speeding along its Thames Valley corridor, to aircraft taking off from its global gateway, and the commercial vehicles using its motorways and highways – not forgetting its vibrant but unseen digital virtual highways, it is plain that ….
Busy, busy West London does the business
Take a map. Draw a rough line from Uxbridge east on the M40/A40, then south down the A312 and eventually link to Sunbury. Go west on the M3, join the M25 at Junction 12 and head north back to Uxbridge at M25 Junction 16. Draw in the M4 linking Junctions 4B and 3.
You will not only have highlighted some of the UK’s most important roads and encircled the nation’s most important airport, but will also have depicted a giant capital letter ‘B’, writes John Burbedge.
Without doubt, this ‘B’ stands for ‘Business’ for this is the vibrant outer West London commercial corridor – a key part of one of the busiest most dynamic business sub-regions in Europe.*
Lying at the confluence of the trade flowing into and out of London along the M40, M4 and M3 corridors, the outer West London area is arguably slightly misnamed – probably since it lies largely inside London’s M25 motorway-ring.
Maybe it should be called something else – a more relevant economic rather than geographic name, maybe ‘the Heathrow Heartland’ – because it does have a different business vibe about it than the City.
However, the names that really matter are the thriving go-ahead SMEs, companies, business parks, importers-exporters, distributors and professional services firms that operate so successfully in this hive of commercial activity – a busy ‘B’ indeed.
From local suppliers to global traders; Thorpe Park’s southern leisure resort to northern Uxbridge, currently bonding its community by beginning a Business Improvement District (BID) scheme, this outer West London area is home to a wealth of business variation.
At its centre lie world-known Heathrow Airport – serving over 206,000 passengers per day – and 30-years-young Stockley Park – Britain’s first business park but still a contemporary location for UK and European corporate bases.
Meanwhile in Hayes, fresh ‘hits’ are being created at The Old Vinyl Factory, EMI’s former vinyl-record processing plant. When complete, this huge regeneration will provide a new community with 640 homes, offices, commercial and leisure facilities including restaurants, shops and gardens.
*The West London Business organisation covers a region regarded as the UK’s second largest powerhouse – a £50 billion-plus economy underpinned by 100,000-plus businesses. This supportive group includes representation from companies large and small, plus key stakeholders, chambers of commerce, and seven local authorities – Hillingdon, Hounslow, Harrow, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Barnet, and Brent. westlondon.com
Heathrow: The beating transportation-heart of business
Like a heart beating within outer West London, a plane lands or takes off from Heathrow every 45 seconds. And like a heart, Heathrow pumps out the life-blood of its business benefits – such as international links, import-export trade, tourism, airport supplier opportunities and employment – to the surrounding sub-region and UK plc.
Heathrow is a major UK job provider – over 76,500 people are directly employed at the airport, a further 7,700 in directly related activities outside the airport. One in five jobs in the local area is airport dependent – more than 21,000 within the Hounslow and Hillingdon authorities alone.
Heathrow is Britain’s biggest port by value – handling over 30% of trade outside the EU, and more non-EU freight by value than all the other UK airports combined. It’s a bigger cargo port than Southampton and Felixstowe combined.
Heathrow community and stakeholder relations director Rob Gray states: “Expansion is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a long-term, sustainable legacy for our local communities and generate thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships.
“There has never been a more important time to grow the UK’s only hub airport. Our plans will connect business with more trading links and boost exports through a doubling of cargo capacity. Expansion will open up more domestic routes in the UK and unlock global markets to ensure Britain prospers in a post-Brexit world.
“We are getting on with delivering expansion and pleased that the Government has indicated there will be a vote on Heathrow in the first half of next year, because any delay would have sent a signal to the world that the UK is not open for business.
“With plans for expansion well underway, we are inviting local businesses to learn more about the airport and to attend our annual Business Summits which give SMEs the opportunity to work with us as we build for the future.”
As the UK’s hub international airport, connecting 194 destinations worldwide, Heathrow plays an important role in helping the country’s economy to thrive – expansion will create up to £211b in growth and up to 180,000 jobs across the UK.
With runway expansion, up to 40,000 jobs in the local area are expected to be created and double the number of apprenticeships at Heathrow.
Heathrow cargo traffic figures have grown steadily for 14 consecutive months, and expansion will double the airport’s capacity.
Supportive business alliances
While the government focus may be EU-distracted, progressive bodies within the West London sub-region continue to forge their own business and community destinies.
West London Business chief executive Andrew Dakers describes the sub-region as “the UK’s global gateway – a vital contributor to UK plc”, and highlighted some key current activity.
“The Old Vinyl Factory – home to the Central Research Laboratory, now welcoming the latest cohort of start-ups to its accelerator programme – will be a hub of ever increasing importance,” Dakers predicts.
“At the moment, White City stands out as an area driving West London’s continued growth and dynamism with Westfield doubling in size in early 2018 to become Europe’s largest shopping centre.
“Nearby, Imperial College London’s i-Hub as well as White City Place where the Royal College of Art are all opening fresh doors of opportunity, and innovative co-working spaces from Huckletree and Central Working are also contributing to sub-region vibrancy and energy.
“Fast forward to 2026 and a new centre of gravity will emerge at Old Oak when the new HS2-Elizabeth Line station opens at the heart of the UK’s largest regeneration scheme.”
But, Dakers adds: “New housing continues to come on stream – although never fast enough.”
“To underpin this growth in population and economic activity it is critical that infrastructure improvements are delivered, from Heathrow expansion to improved rail connectivity across the sub-region.”
Fittingly, in October, officials from Heathrow Airport showcased detailed plans of Heathrow’s proposed expansion at the UK’s biggest property event, MIPIMUK in London, as part of a Greater Thames Valley delegation led by UK Property Forums.
The new Uxbridge Business Improvement District (BID) scheme was also launched last month, delivering a committed investment of over £2.5 million to the area over a five-year period, funded by businesses and controlled by businesses.
BID director Laurie Taylor, also general manager of the town’s Intu retail complex, explained: “Not only do we see this as an opportunity to improve the Uxbridge town centre environment for businesses, residents and employees; it is vital that we do not fall behind our competitors.” (Other areas in West London already have BIDs.)
“Representing business is at the heart of the BID’s objectives and it will look to provide a stronger voice for the local business community, ensuring its views are
considered and that businesses are kept up-to-date on BID work being undertaken on their behalf.
“Although there has been a significant increase in commercial investment in Uxbridge, the BID recognises that life ‘in business’ in the town is not always stress free, which may impact on potential employees and visitors alike.
“Operating as a powerful voice of the business community, the Uxbridge BID will lobby all relevant parties on key areas affecting access, including commuter transport links and parking for businesses.”
Uxbridge-based Brunel University London promotes the development of strong local business-academic links. Its Brunel Business School also plays a key role in supporting the wider university, local community and global business community.
Dr Jane Hendy, recently appointed as the School’s head, revealed: “Brunel Business School actively supports the Co-Innovate project, funded equally by the university and the European Regional Development Fund. We work closely with more than 250 local SMEs, to promote innovation through collaborative student projects, workshops and academic expertise.
“We also run Business Life, an innovative programme that helps graduates find employment by translating their education into the employability skills local businesses want. Going forward, we aim to collaborate with local business to further support the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.”
Every year, Brunel University London contributes more than £200m to the local economy and £500m GVA to the London economy. A recent report also found Brunel supports more than 2,500 jobs a year in the London Borough of Hillingdon and more than 5,000 jobs in London overall.
Dr Hendy summed up with an invitation: “Local business underpins our future. We encourage local businesses to come in and see how we can work together to grow their operations and the local economy.” (brunel.ac.uk/business/contact).
A thriving property sector …
INDUSTRIAL: Cushman & Wakefield was the 2017 Thames Valley Property Awards, Industrial and Logistics Consultancy of the Year. Partner Karen Thomas leads her West London team from Stockley Park, well placed to serve “a large, mature and diverse industrial market, in which Heathrow has been a constant, providing underlying demand and resilience.
“Today, there are increasing pressures on industrial land, not only from alternative and higher value uses such as residential, but also from significant infrastructure projects like Crossrail and HS2. Other businesses are also now considering West London locations due to lack of viable options.
“Most redevelopment is of older and/or smaller buildings, supporting good levels of interest in units up to 15,000 sq ft and stable interest outside that size range.
“The West London industrial market today is also at the forefront of the e-commerce explosion thanks to its inherent population density and demographics, plus proximity to Central London, making it a popular choice for last-mile and urban logistics.
“As we enter this fourth industrial revolution (4IR) we will see even more change than the past decade, but West London is well-placed to optimise the opportunities it will bring.”
Real estate analyst Chris Johns of CoStar Group UK, agreed: “The industrial sector is enjoying a real purple patch with online retailers and logistics firms continuing to drive demand for warehouse space. So with the UK increasingly becoming a nation of online shoppers, there are a number of indicators that suggest the warehouse sector is well positioned to weather any Brexit inspired headwinds.”
OFFICES: In September, JLL’s West London and Thames Valley (Western Corridor) seminar highlighted the strength of the region’s office market, hinting at opportunities for leasing growth and ‘a stellar investment year’ with £2b-plus in deals (60% involving overseas investors) already transacted.
The ‘B’ for business that is outer West London
West London legal specialists IBB Solicitors – and no doubt many organisations operating so successfully within the area – think outer West London doesn’t get the recognition it deserves as an economic powerhouse. Hence this IBB Solicitors supported feature.
With unrivalled international connections and good quality national rail and road links, West London has become the home for over 100,000 organisations including multinationals, UK limited companies, charities and SMEs.
In response to how its clients need to work, IBB Solicitors has developed skills to support relationships with international parent organisations, services to help its clients take advantage of the changing property market around Heathrow, and sector knowledge to give its clients a competitive edge in corporate and commercial deals.
IBB Solicitors managing partner, Joanna DeBiase, explains: “A lot of good things are happening in this area. I only have to step out of our front door to meet great people doing great work for their organisations, the thriving local and national economy, and the incredibly vibrant and diverse community we serve.”
James Finnis, head of JLL’s South East office agency said: “The development pipeline has been active and delivered good stock into the market. The take-up year-to-date has been as forecast, but remains limited. Looking into 2018/19/20 the market will enter a period of net absorption, which will create opportunities in certain markets for renewed development activity. Buildings cannot afford to be ‘vanilla’ and success will come to those who have the right ingredients to attract and engage occupiers and their employees.”
Chris Johns corroborated the JLL view, noting a 9% increase in West London office take-up over the past four quarters, and a westward drift towards “far cheaper rents than Central London submarkets.”
Despite the vacancy rate jumping dramatically upwards in 2015 when the BBC vacated around 500,000 sq ft of space at White City, rent growth has continued on a steep upward trajectory.
Johns also highlighted West London’s largest letting since the beginning of 2016 – The World Business Centre near Heathrow gaining an 85,000 sq ft office pre-let that will be ready for airport technology group Amadeus to move into later this year.
He noted that Uxbridge’s second-place ranking in the CoStar 50 Occupier Index was supported by MSC Cruise Management and Russian air cargo group Volga Dnepr acquiring a combined 68,000 sq ft of refurbished space at Stockley Park.
… aware of its need to change
Technological advancement is driving property sector change, reshaping business
models, workstyles, and accordingly occupier demand, while revealing the need for employee wellbeing.
JLL associate director Claire Racine suggested: “There has never been a better time to embrace employee wellbeing. Creating environments which promote productivity by being mindful to employee needs is the key to success, with early adopters of these strategies already reaping the rewards.”
Developer Chris Hiatt, a Landid director, commented: “The Elizabeth Line is going to be a game-changer and I don’t think that’s completely sunk in yet, particularly, when occupiers consider the difference in Western Corridor values compared to central London. The very best buildings – those that cater for modern occupiers and benefit from great connectivity – will reap the benefits.
“While the Western Corridor office market remains strong, occupier demand has fallen slightly and supply has also dipped. With fresh speculative projects unlikely, there is limited new space – and a shortage of real quality.”
Occupiers are still consolidating their businesses by bringing different arms under the same roof. “With the rise of agile working and other modern work practices, that translates to a need for less space and a flight to high-quality design-led offices.
“Businesses are also facing pressures to attract and retain talented people and increasingly that is translating into a desire to be located in well-connected, town-centre locations, with great amenities.”
In recent months, the Landid and Brockton partnership has signed several such forward-thinking businesses to its buildings in Reading, Slough and Uxbridge.
Brexit clouds the horizon
Given that the EU and UK are major trading partners, the sooner we get some sense of stability on BREXIT discussions the better, says Peter Sunderland, MD of a typical outer West London business, Feltham-based Charles Kendall Freight. “Business needs confidence about the future and this is affecting trade.
“A hard Brexit will mean we become an independent trading nation following WTO rules. Free movement of labour and goods will stop and imports and export will be subject to the same procedures as current non-EU shipments.”
This would involve significant extra administrative work for logistics companies such as Charles Kendall.
“However, the UK and EU Customs structure are not prepared for this; the added import and export declarations would create major delays.
“Companies are already planning to move operations to the EU where the economy is doing very well. Conversely the UK industry outlook is not so good. While current exchange rates have brought lower costs, we’ll have to negotiate many free-trade agreements – and quickly. UK Export Finance has a £1.7b fund to help UK companies win overseas contracts, but more needs to be done.”