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Will Lewis – director of OBI Property – on business and the C-word

It’s a strange thing, confidence. You’ll often hear the manager who’s taken over a struggling football team bring it up as the main thing his new charges are lacking. The main ingredients are all there; he’s saying, these are good people doing a good job – they just need a nudge in the right direction.

It’s a similar scenario in business. Nobody could be blamed for “drawing in their horns” as the global financial crisis took hold from September 2008, and with virtually every bank having to restructure or reorganise themselves in some way in the following years, most took it as read that if they were to fail, that traditional safety net might be denied to them. No wonder people stopped investing in new plant and equipment; in marketing, in hiring new people, in looking for new opportunities abroad.

Most business people will tell you this was the deepest recession they’d ever known, and it’s taken a long time to get to a place where those business leaders prepared to make the big calls are no longer in a brave minority. Confidence is pretty much there now, and small uncertainties around the General Election notwithstanding, 2015 and beyond look healthy.

There’s certainly a lot going on in the property market, and the wider impact of that is that over the next couple of years we’ll see some great new buildings and more inward investment, bringing people and disposable income, improving the fabric of our great regional cities and adding to their vitality (London’s recession, such as it was, ended a long time ago).

After a massive 2014 in which over 1.3 million sq ft was let, the Manchester city centre office market could go further still in 2015, with a first quarter take-up figure of 317,000 sq ft. And it’s not just the city centre doing well – Salford Quays has already exceeded 2014’s total take-up by 40 per cent, with 214,000 sq ft committed to; 120,000 sq ft of this by BUPA.

Of the city centre stats, there are three stand-out deals: two of the Big Four accountancies, EY and PwC, have each agreed terms to move from Barbirolli Square into new landmark buildings – EY making the short hop to Two St Peter’s Square and PwC to No. 1 Spinningfields.

The third deal is rentalcars.com; this is a deal that will see 300 jobs created in the city when the car hire firm moves into 35 Fountain Street. The 38,000 sq ft rentalcars.com has taken here is in addition to the 60,000 sq ft it occupies at Sunlight House – a space rentalcars.com also plan to refurbish, as it has said that it intends to create the most exciting working spaces in the UK. That’s the sort of confidence we like to hear.

The UK’s been on a steady upward curve for a few years, but it’s taken a while for confidence to spread – and most people we speak to still prefer to say they’re “cautiously optimistic”. That’s no bad thing. But the momentum has definitely shifted, and once companies see their competitors making property investments that will allow them to attract and retain the best staff, most feel compelled to respond.

Cautious it may be, but optimism is the order of the day.

www.obiproperty.co.uk

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