Sara Bean visits the Wellington Place development in Leeds, where the mix of corporate occupiers and small local businesses is creating a unique community vibe
Last year, a report by real estate advisory business GVA Grimley argued that Leeds City Region has a key ‘window of opportunity’ to cement its position as one of the world’s most competitive locations for trade and investment.
The key drivers for this growth include: transport infrastructure (including HS2), York Central station and strategic new train stations at White Rose Office Park, Thorpe Park and Leeds Bradford International Airport Parkway; the knowledge economy and skills; city centre regeneration and out-of-town investment opportunities; and the continuing strength of Leeds City Region’s commercial property market.
Leeds city centre certainly appears to be thriving; it posted a record million sq ft of take-up during 2017. This was boosted by what is claimed to be the biggest ever commercial property letting deal in the city’s history when HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), working with the Cabinet Office, announced it would take approximately 378,000 sq ft at the city’s Wellington Place development.
The work is scheduled for completion in 2019, when some 6,000 civil servants will bring the community at Wellington Place to almost 10,000 employees. The Leeds hub will form part of an overall government strategy of accommodating multi-departmental workforces in shared buildings, which, at Wellington Place, will include HMRC and NHS Digital. The idea behind the government’s move is to deliver taxpayer savings while helping to position Leeds as a national leader in digital skills, act as a catalyst for regional growth in Yorkshire, and ensure the delivery of the best quality service to the public.
In line with the government’s sustainability strategy, the location of the new offices in a prime city centre location not only offers occupants easy access to the Leeds retail quarter, but the option of commuting to the new offices via nearby Leeds railway station.
The site already hosts a range of businesses, including Sky Betting & Gaming, Willis Towers Watson, Squire Patton Boggs and Shulmans. In January of this year 3 Wellington Place became the latest building to be completed, offering 115,000 sq ft of grade A office and retail space over five floors. This brings the number of completed buildings at the site to six. According to the development’s commercial property developer and asset manager MEPC, the overall masterplan is for 14 buildings in total, offering more than 1.5 million sq ft of commercial, retail, leisure and residential accommodation in the centre of Leeds.
How can a city centre site accommodate so many new buildings? It’s all down to Leeds’ history. The first thing you notice when visiting the development is a rather beautiful old tower poised between the shiny modern buildings. This is because the site on which Wellington Place is built was once home to Leeds Central railway station, and the old wagon-lifting hoist is a reminder of that heritage.
CBRE is the managing agent for Wellington Place. “It’s the last remaining building and is the focal point of our landmark park, Tower Square,” explains Phil Clifford, Estate Manager and Building Manager. “In the 1800s this was the site of the central station, and the other side comprised all of the city’s soap factories. The site later became a car park and then a shopping centre in the 1980s, and then MEPC began building here.” He adds: “Today we’re proud that we’re able to continue the legacy of the site, not only continuing to support industry, but also helping to drive the city’s economy forward.”
Within the development some of the buildings are mixed use, which means that alongside the office space there are also retail and leisure opportunities. One of the site’s priorities is to offer the businesses that reside there a range of benefits within the development, and also to provide a customer base for those who rent the retail space.
The offices attract a variety of business types, from the incoming public sector occupiers to global organisations. The first building, number 1, was completed in 2001 and occupied by Willis Towers Watson – which moved across to 5 Wellington Place last year, expanding its office occupancy to 26,500 sq ft.