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‘In smaller towns and cities offices can bring growth'

[OFFICES] Essay 2: Richard Kauntze, British Council for Offices

Offices and their surrounding environments have never been more vital to daily life. Office-based sectors dominate our island - the Centre for Cities reported in 2008 that 6.5 million of us work in them - and today the service sector accounts for 77 per cent of the UK’s economy. It’s not surprising that, as a result, offices can have a huge economic, environmental and social impact on their localities.

Workplaces often have ripple effects on their vicinity. It’s not hard to find examples of new office-based developments rejuvenating local areas across the country.

MediaCityUK has breathed new life into a formerly run-down area of Salford Quays, while Fabrica, winner of Best Commercial Workplace at the British Council for Offices’ (BCO’s) 2013 North of England, North Wales & Northern Ireland Awards, has added vibrancy to the New Islington area against the backdrop of difficult market conditions, through a design which pays homage to the area’s cotton weaving and industrial heritage.

Equally, TechCity in East London is quickly becoming an established hub for local, regional and national businesses and the heartbeat of the burgeoning technology, media and telecommunications sector.

The BCO and Centre for Cities’ report of last year found that it is essential that cities with dynamic economies have enough offices to support businesses to grow - and that the current mismatch between where offices are needed in the UK, such as Reading and Aldershot, and where they are being built is hindering the economic performance of some of our strongest small to medium-sized city economies.

Even in smaller towns and cities, office developments can bring growth to local economies. An English Heritage report recently highlighted a number of exemplary projects, including a £4.5 million scheme to bring one of Cromford’s historic mills back into use. The redevelopment will include the conversion of four floors into office space, with 25 businesses due to take up residence in the building.

While occupied offices help boost their local economies through the trade and investment they generate, perhaps counter-intuitively, they can also encourage biodiversity in urban areas. Ropemaker Place in the City of London, for example, is composed of six large-scale cubic forms, rising up as a series of garden terraces.

Green roofs can reduce the ‘urban heat island effect’, retain 70-80 per cent of rainfall and improve local air quality.

Similarly, an initiative between Trees for Cities, Defra and the Forestry Commission called ‘The Big Tree Plant’ will see the planting of 157,000 trees over four years as part of a national campaign that helps people and communities across England to plant more trees where they live and work.

With growing urban populations, the relationship between indoors and outdoors is ever more important, not least because an outdoor public space in proximity to an office helps to promote a good work-life balance for employees.

The proposed new four-storey headquarters for accountancy firm KPMG in Leeds city centre will include the creation of a park that will occupy part of the 1.16-hectare site. This type of space gives both aesthetic and functional purpose to the built environment, to the benefit of company staff and the wider community.

Since office-based employment is nothing less than essential for the UK economy, offices are now lively focal points in many towns and cities. Indeed, a growing number have become iconic landmarks in their own right.

Vibrant social spaces are being integrated with office buildings and these encourage people to spend greater time in those neighbourhoods.

The More London Development in the transformed London Bridge area regularly hosts free-to-view art exhibitions and concerts at the Scoop amphitheatre.

Pop-up screens are used to show films and live sporting broadcasts, encouraging communities to form around office developments. Beyond this, the More London Community Investment Programme is a £35 million environmental and socio-economic investment scheme in the wider area of north Southwark.

Today, the impact of offices extends far beyond the perimeter of their immediate sites. All involved in the design, ownership and occupancy of offices in the UK have the opportunity to ensure they are pivotal to their community.

Richard Kauntze is chief executive of the British Council for Offices. He will chair the plenary session, ‘Transport and Offices - Crisis, Delusion, or the British Way’, at the BCO’s annual conference in Madrid, 15-17 May

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