Birmingham office market research — Q2 2021

The Birmingham office market begins to pick up as COVID vaccinations help bring us closer to normality. With 203,499 sq ft over 24 lettings, it’s clear that businesses are gaining confidence.

In the Birmingham office market, large and mid-sized lettings are on the rise. The largest transaction saw IWG take 50,000 sq ft at The Mailbox. In contrast to Q1, the size of this transaction alone exceeds the total square footage secured in Birmingham city centre last quarter.

Q2 2021 stats

2 0 3 , 4 9 9

total take-up (sq ft)

5 0 , 0 0 0

largest deal (sq ft)

2 4

total transactions

Birmingham office market at a glance

  • Key transactions – the occupiers topping this quarter’s figures
  • IWG takes 50,000 in Q2’s largest letting – managed office provider takes most space
  • Serviced and managed space – activity in sector picks up but plenty of vacant space
  • A new, larger Binding Site – Birmingham life sciences success story expands
  • The Games are growing – Commonwealth Games takes extra space at Six Brindleyplace
  • Public sector delivers a trio – Government’s strong presence in the stats continues
  • Good mix – variety of sectors in Q2 and recruitment sector perks up
  • Slowly but surely – more businesses return to the office, but many planning for September
  • ‘Goldmine’ inward investor – Goldman Sachs starts in Birmingham at 55 Colmore Row
  • Outlook – what lies ahead for Birmingham city centre

Key transactions

Office buildingSize (sq ft)OccupierBusiness sector
The Mailbox50,000IWGManaged offices
Broadway36,038The Binding SiteMedical technology
Six Brindleyplace28,267Commonwealth GamesPublic sector
Baskerville House17,885British Transport Police AuthorityGovernment
Victoria Square House10,161Office of the Public Guardian (OPG)Government
Total142,35170% of take-up

IWG responsible for Q2’s largest letting

CGI of Office Level 1 within the Mailbox

The largest letting in the Birmingham office market in Q2 2021 was to IWG, formerly Regus. IWG took space in order to provide a managed office solution. The transaction totalled 50,000 sq ft at the Mailbox and may have been done on behalf of an occupier looking to take space on a managed basis.

This approach to occupancy is something we first saw in Birmingham in relation to HS2. In 2017, Instant Offices provided HS2 contractors with a flexible, managed office solution at Bruntwood’s Cornerblock. Instant’s model enables large occupiers to take office space for the period of their instructed project contract, without taking on responsibilities of the true lease.

For the “true” occupier of the space, the agreement will include much more than space, with fit out, furniture and service charge all likely to be part of the price. By occupying managed space, they are also in a far better position to be fleet of foot. This is because their commitment to the space will not be that of a standard traditional lease.

Serviced and managed office space

103 Colmore Row, behind the trees of St Philips Square, Birmingham city centre

Following on from the managed solution IWG is providing, the serviced office market seems to be waking up.

Major serviced office operators are looking to refresh their interest in Birmingham city centre. There are multiple operators currently looking to take office space in Birmingham for their serviced offering. We can expect to see these requirements translate into transactions in the coming quarters.

In fact, in July, we saw the first letting at the property 103 Colmore Row go to a serviced office operator. The flexible office provider, x+why, will take 31,500 sq ft at the 223,631 sq ft landmark office building, built on the site of the former Natwest building. 103 stretches 26 storeys into the sky, and x+why will be on the 1st, 2nd and part of the 18th floors – the building is due for completion this summer. We’ll have more on the transaction at the property next quarter.

However, a lot of the existing serviced office space within Birmingham city centre still remains unoccupied. Having sat empty for a great deal of 2020, serviced offices have only recently begun to see occupiers return. Although signs are promising, these buildings are still far shy of their pre-COVID occupancy levels.

That being said, an impact of the pandemic is a desire for flexibility, and this is thought to be turning some businesses that would normally be in office space on a traditional lease, to serviced space.

A new, larger Binding Site

Broadway, Five Ways, Birmingham city centre

Binding Site expanding and securing space at Broadway, just over the Five Ways roundabout from their existing offices at 8 Calthorpe Road, is a headline of the quarter. The transaction figures show c.36,000 sq ft – however, this is not full story. The provider of specialist immunodiagnostic assays and instrumentation has, in fact, taken a total of 97,932 sq ft at the site. Whilst c.36,000 sq ft is being classified as an office letting, the remaining c.60,000 sq ft is to comprise the laboratory space.

A key organisation within the West Midlands growing life sciences sector, Binding Site conducts research and development within the diagnosis and management of blood cancers and immune system disorders. Binding Site is a local success story, providing specialist diagnostic products to clinicians and laboratory professionals worldwide. Founded by researchers at the University of Birmingham over 25 years ago, it has built on its strong scientific foundations since then.

Mark Culwick, Chief Financial Officer for Binding Site, said:

“The Broadway space will support significant expansion in production capacity as well as the development of new products to allow us to better service our customers and their patients. Over time, we expect the site to support the creation of hundreds of new jobs too. It is ideally located both close to our existing HQ and with excellent public transport links to allow us to maintain our sustainable expansion.”

For quite some time, the ground floor of the Broadway building has featured a hoarding from supermarket retailer, Aldi. The retailer was to open a supermarket on the site, where Tesco had once been. However, with Binding Site taking the entire building, it must be assumed that Aldi will no longer be opening.

The Games are growing

Commonwealth Games countdown clock in front of Birmingham Library, Centenary Square, Birmingham city centre

In this quarter, the Commonwealth Games has taken a further 28,267 sq ft at Six Brindleyplace. In 2019, the team in charge of making the 2022 Games a reality took 72,261 sq ft at the nearby One Brindleyplace – this brings their total occupancy to over 100,000 sq ft.

At the time of the initial letting, it was understood that the organisation would require more space in the coming quarters. Whilst over 100,000 sq ft is certainly a large amount of space, it is perhaps less than expected and this could represent a change in requirement in response to COVID.

The Games will take place in July and August 2022, and with ticket ballots opening this month, this momentous event for Birmingham is inching closer.

Public sector delivers a trio

Once again, as has become almost customary, lettings to the Government and public sector organisations are prominent in the quarter’s transactions. These lettings, totalling 56,313 sq ft in Q2, 28% of the quarter’s total take-up, are as follows:

Commonwealth Games – 28,267 sq ft at 6 Brindleyplace

As stated in the section above, the Commonwealth Games expanded within Brindleyplace, taking its total occupancy to 100,528 sq ft – across buildings One and Six.

British Transport Police Authority – 17,885 sq ft at Baskerville House

British Transport Police Authority is relocating to Baskerville House in Centenary Square, from The Axis which is to be redeveloped.

Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) – 10,161 sq ft at Victoria Square House

OPG polices the activities of deputies, attorneys and guardians who act to protect the financial affairs of people lacking the mental capacity for making decisions about such things. OPG is yet another occupier that has had to vacate Axis and they have moved a short distance to Victoria Square House.

Good mix

Q2 has seen not just an improvement in the size of deals, but also in the variety of businesses too. The mix of sectors that we can see taking office space this quarter in Birmingham city centre shows promising resurgence within the region’s economy.

As already mentioned, Government and public sector lettings were prominent, but we also see civil engineering, financial, outsourcing, software, marketing services, recruitment, legal and many more.

Recruitment lettings signal a growing economy, and in Q2 2021 we have two such transactions:

  • SF Group – 2,649 sq ft at 22 Gas Street
  • Pontem Recruitment – 800 sq ft at McLaren

Though these lettings are relatively small, it’s encouraging to see these businesses taking space. However, this may also reflect the current difficulties that businesses are experiencing in recruiting staff, which means we may see more of these types of lettings as more companies ‘get back to work’.

Slowly but surely

Some of us are in the office, some of us aren’t – it’s a slow process, getting the country back in the office.

July 19th, so-called “Freedom Day”, signifies the end of the lockdown, with further restrictions being removed – including the work from home instruction. In confirming the date a week prior, Boris Johnson himself said he did not expect to see all businesses simultaneously flood back this month – and he‘s right.

People have already been coming slowly back to work over recent months. However, many businesses are still working from home or operating a flexible policy of working in the office one or more days a week. September is an important month in business, the end of the school summer holidays tends to see everyone back at work and we understand that a lot of businesses have set their sights on September as the right time to return to the office.

Some of these employees may need tempting back into the workplace, particularly if working in the office is optional. In addition to implementing measures to make the offices safer, there are a number of employers using ‘carrots’ such as vouchers for free lunches to draw their staff into the office.

Furthermore, aspects of M&E such as ventilation have become a priority – with occupiers either discussing the air con and ventilation of their existing space with their landlords or incorporating it into their future requirements.

‘Goldmine’ inward investor

55 Colmore Row, Birmingham city centre

Global investment bank, Goldman Sachs has taken 7,551 sq ft at 55 Colmore Row – a property occupied by WeWork. This represents a large transaction of serviced office space, with most serviced office occupiers taking far less than this. Typically, a letting in serviced office space would not appear in the Birmingham office market figures. In part, this is because the majority of the transactions that take place within serviced office space go unreported.

However, this particular deal – which Goldman Sachs had already revealed in Q1 would take place – has been reported. Subsequently, the Birmingham Office Market Forum has chosen to incorporate it in light of the prominence of the occupier and size of letting.

Taking a relatively modest amount of space (for Goldman Sachs) at WeWork is understood to be the first step in the process to establish a strong base in Birmingham.

Richard Gnodde, Chief Executive Officer for Goldman Sachs International, said: “Establishing a new office in Birmingham will diversify our UK footprint and give us access to a broad and deep talent pool in the local area. We see tremendous opportunity to enhance our UK presence and continue delivering for our global clients.”

Outlook

Many businesses are encouraging employees back to the office. With the lessons learned and the experiences had during the pandemic, there are plenty of occupiers still yet to establish what their office operations look like going forward. That being said, many have between now and their lease expiries to establish this – some will require less office space and some may, in fact, need more.

We have been expecting there to be strong demand for more flexible lease agreements. However, what we can actually see – both in Birmingham city centre and the M42 corridor – is that leases are still being signed for 10 years with a 5-year break.

The departure of three occupiers from The Axis building now enables the development of Axis Square to potentially move forward. Located next to the Mailbox, the scheme would further improve connections across the City with people able to walk more easily between Broad Street, New Street Station and the surrounding areas.

CGI of Axis Square, next the Mailbox, Birmingham city centre

See full details of the transactions featured in our Birmingham office market research, comprising office space in Birmingham city centre and Edgbaston.

For more information on the Birmingham office market, please contact Nigel Tripp on 0121 233 2330 or email ntripp@kwboffice.com.

To register for future research updates, click here. See also our M42 and Solihull office market research.

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Contact Nigel Tripp

0121 233 2330