Figures make for good desk time Reading

Like the career of one its most famous sons, the actor Ricky Gervais, Reading‘s reputation as a prime commercial centre, and that of the Thames Valley as a whole, appears to be on the up and up after figures for the year ending 2013 reported a sharp rise in occupier take up and total investment in the region’s office market.

Understandably, real estate firms have steered clear of using David Brent, Gervais’ cringeworthy character from the worldwide TV hit The Office, to publicise their offices to let in Reading. Not that people need much persuading to come to the Berkshire town, which, for quite some time has fought to gain City status. It is currently one of the largest urban areas in Europe without such a title.

From a commercial perspective Reading has enjoyed unprecedented levels of growth over a long period, and after experiencing a few fallow years at the height of the recession demand for office space is soaring again. Despite being widely regarded as part of the London commuter belt, the 50,000 who travel from the town to the capital by train on a daily basis is matched by those heading west in the opposite direction.

Attracted by the town’s excellent transport links – London is only a 45-minute drive away, several British companies and a number of foreign multinationals including the BG Group, ING Direct, Microsoft, Oracle and Hibu (formerly Yell Group) have decided to set up their UK headquarters there.

One of the biggest deals in terms of office investment in the Thames Valley in 2013 involved Benson Elliot, who gained revised consent to develop the Station Hill scheme in Reading town centre, which will provide 1.2m sq ft of development, principally offices but also 32,000 sq ft of shops, 9,000 sq ft of leisure and circa 300 flats.

A review by property consultants Lambert, Smith and Hampton shows that the Thames Valley office market made a robust recovery in 2013 with occupier take-up increasing by 56% and total investment in excess of £1.16bn. This was in part thanks to strong Q4 results with take-up levels increasing to 580,383 sq ft in Q4 up from 254,150 sq ft (Q4 2012) and office supply down by 17%, with only 27% of availability considered to be Grade A office stock.

And given that The Cities Outlook report, published earlier this year, says Reading is the best place in the country to find a job – with the number of people employed in the borough rising to 78.1%, the demand for office space is unlikely to slow up any time soon. The borough also performed well when judged on average weekly earnings, coming second only to London, and securing fifth place for the amount of business start-ups.