Small and micro businesses (SMEs) with fewer than 50 employees make up 99% of all businesses and 41% of employment in London, but workspace here is under threat from office-to-residential conversion and a historically rapid loss of industrial land.
Future of London’s Workspace that Works report – based on a year-long programme of research and events with more than 300 workspace operators, council officers and property professionals – shows that well-considered workspace can both address the threat to London’s economy and deliver regeneration benefits. The programme was kindly supported by Pollard Thomas Edwards, LB Haringey and Potter Raper Partnership.
At the report launch on 21 February, Alexei Schwab and Amanda Robinson of Future of London summarised the report’s findings that there is a huge appetite among London local authorities to support SME workspace provision, and that local authorities are well placed to influence provision in a way that aligns with their regeneration and economic development priorities.
Councils can use planning powers to protect existing space; work with developers and operators to shape appropriate workspace in new developments; and use their own buildings and land to provide workspace.
Among the report’s recommendations are that local authorities should:
- Protect existing workspace and industrial land and seek reprovision in case of development
- Give detailed guidance on what types of workspace are suitable, including advice on design and management
- Help establish pathways for growing businesses and ensure availability of move-on space
- Use public-sector property to provide workspace
Regeneration benefits associated with workspace provision include meeting SME needs, but also learning and apprenticeship opportunities; formal and informal business, charity and social enterprise support; activating underused buildings and high streets; and working with colleges, universities and major employers to provide pathways into work for local people.
Tom Bridgman, Investment & Growth Delivery Lead, LB Lambeth, outlined the council’s approach to SME workspace, including use of temporary workspace projects in Brixton and Loughborough Junction, providing shared workspace in the new Lambeth Town Hall and building a planning framework that protects existing workspace and encourages new provision.
Shared workspace is on the rise and expanding to new sectors such as high-tech manufacturing, food production and laboratories. It can provide dedicated space for niche sectors and significantly reduce costs for small businesses and start-ups through cheaper rents and shared operating costs.
Ian Dubber, Head of Planning at Workspace Group, spoke about the importance of a diverse range of workspace typologies to meet SME needs, including different size spaces and social areas where tenants can mix. While Workspace’s 70 London properties are focused in central London, the company also operates many sites in outer London, especially around transport hubs.
With central London costs rising and business rates increases set to hit London businesses hard, outer London is becoming increasingly attractive to flexible workspace providers; town centres with good transport links provide the right ingredients.
Small business needs can vary widely depending on sector, age and size. The report encourages workspace operators to tailor support to tenant needs rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach and to review tenants regularly to better meet their needs. This can also help workspace operators attract investment and demonstrate regeneration impacts.
Christina Hayman, General Manager at Makerversity, spoke about the organisation’s support for small businesses: tenants have access to expert advice, specialist equipment and affordable workspace. Makerversity also helps tenants make a social impact, by arranging work placements and training for young people.
Workspace that Works notes an increasing willingness among local authorities to take an active role in workspace provision by using their own sites and buildings (both on temporary and permanent basis), acting as an intermediary between developers and workspace operators, and using planning policy to be more specific about what types of workspace are suitable/desirable for an area.
The report was used as evidence in the London Assembly’s 21 February Economy Committee meeting on small businesses access to workspace.
Future of London will continue to support best practice in workspace provision in London: the issue will be addressed in our 2017 placemaking programme, and our popular workspace matching event will return later in the year. To stay up to date, join our mailing list.
- Download the report here: Workspace that Works
- Click here for Future of London’s previous workspace events
View the presentations from the event below: