Kent is emerging as a favourable business location in the South East, with its property industry showing some signs for optimism and mirroring the national picture, according to the 21st annual Kent Property Market Report published this month.
The report, which reviews the county’s commercial, retail, tourism, rural and residential property markets, and its regeneration programmes, is produced by Kent County Council, leading international property consultants and chartered surveyors Cluttons, and investment promotion agency Locate in Kent.
The performance of the county’s property sectors largely reflects that of the wider South East. Sectors which are already performing well include retail warehousing showing a positive rental growth of 1.2 per cent, following its above average growth of 1 per cent in 2010, while rents were still falling at a regional level. The Kent industrial market also continues to outperform the South East and the national average, as the pace of rental decline slowed to 0.6 per cent from 0.9 per cent.
As elsewhere in the South East, demand for office space remains subdued and this has seen rents fall by 5.3 per cent in 2011, following a 1.2 per cent dip in the previous year. Deals continue to be done across Kent business parks, including Chatham Maritime, Crossways, Eureka Park and Kings Hill.
The county’s retail sector has witnessed deteriorating consumer confidence and the continued growth of e-commerce, but the rate of rental falls has slowed, falling by 1.8 per cent in 2011, compared to a fall of 6.5 per cent in 2010.
In terms of the residential property market, average values in Kent are 0.2 per cent ahead of last year according to the Land Registry, driven in part by demand for large family houses in West Kent.
Initiatives to promote high growth sectors in the county are expected to boost future economic growth and prospects in the property sector.
For example, East Kent has seen the purchase of the former Pfizer site in Sandwich by Discovery Park Limited, and the site has been designated as an Enterprise Zone. Businesses with growth ambitions in the east of the county, including Canterbury, Thanet, Dover and Shepway, can apply for 0% loans from the £35 million Regional Growth Fund.
Kent’s county town, Maidstone, has welcomed renewed investor interest, including speculative development at Hermitage Court by the Gallagher Group. Kent History & Library Centre, and the Gallagher Stadium, the 3,000 capacity home of Maidstone FC, have both been completed. Work is also underway on the £80m Kent Institute of Medicine & Surgery at Junction 7, part of the Maidstone Medical Campus Masterplan.
Mark Dance, Kent Council Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Economic Development, said: “Travelling across the county it is clear that, despite the economic climate, there is evidence of renewed confidence in Kent among its existing businesses and recent arrivals, especially those in life sciences, renewable technologies and high-tech engineering. There is no room for complacency and we must ensure that we do all we can to secure greater investment on which we can build the county’s future prosperity.”
News of the proposed £2bn plans for a Paramount Pictures entertainment resort at Swanscombe on the River Thames came too late for the report, which was unveiled to an audience of more than 200 property experts at 32 Tower View, Kings Hill, near West Malling.
Another notable investment, which has inspired confidence in the county, is at Chatham Docks, where Peel Ports has secured outline permission for 900 homes, two hotels and conference facilities on the 26-acre site. The £650 million development on the river Medway is expected to create 3,500 jobs.
Kent’s leisure and tourism industry also remains buoyant, contributing more than £3.2 billion annually to the local economy and supporting 63,000 jobs. The report found that the sector is expected to remain strong, thanks to the opening of Glow, the conference and exhibition centre at Bluewater, and national draws such the Turner Contemporary in Margate and the 1,200 seater £25.5m Marlowe Theatre, in Canterbury.
Investment is also earmarked for Dreamland in Margate, and central Dover, where plans for new homes, shops and restaurants have passed final planning stage, with completion expected in 2013.
Sue Foxley, head of research, Cluttons, commented: “There is no doubt that the economic outlook in the UK is challenging and this is reflected in our report. However, there are emerging areas of growth in the South East economy and these are reflected in Kent’s high growth business sectors. These present an attractive investment story for the county’s property market looking forward.”
Paul Wookey, chief Executive of Locate in Kent, added: “It is clear from our pipeline of enquiries that the county is reaping the benefits of recent infrastructure and development investment including faster rail services from Ashford, North Kent, East Kent and London on High Speed One. Development plans for Kent’s regeneration and growth areas in the Thames Gateway, Ashford and the coastal and principal towns are also progressing well which will provide opportunities for investors.
“London continues to attract strong interest from property investors, especially from overseas. Given our proximity to the capital and transport links, Kent is ideally placed to benefit from investors looking for locations with potential for growth.”
Photo: Sue Foxley, Head of Research at Cluttons, and (l-r) Paul Wookey, Chief Executive Locate in Kent, Paul Carter, Leader Kent County Council, Mark Dance, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Economic Development for Kent County Council, and Andrew Blevins, Managing Director of Liberty Property Trust UK Ltd, at the launch of the Kent Property Market Report 2012