While Liverpool commercial district still struggles to build any new grade A office space Birkenhead comes to market with its own offering which is considerably cheaper than the city. Tony McDonough reports
Almost 78,000 sq ft of grade A office space is coming onto the market in Birkenhead town centre – as Liverpool’s commercial district struggles to build any new office accommodation.
In October, Wirral Growth Company, a 50:50 partnership between Wirral Council and developer Muse, took control of two new office buildings – Mallory and Irvine – totalling around 150,000 sq ft and costing £75m.
Wirral Council will occupy all but one floor of Mallory, taking almost 59,000 sq ft. The remaining floor comprises 19,654 sq ft. Neil Kirkham of letting agent CBRE says he is already talking to a number of potential occupiers.
There is around 12,000 sq ft of retail / leisure space on the ground floor of Mallory with a 4,767 sq ft unit already let. Irving, which is the smaller of the two buildings, brings 58,176 sq ft to the market.
The buildings are named after Wirral-born mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. The courageous pair died attempting to climb Everest in 1924.
In 1922, Mallory had reached a record height of 8,225 metres on the mountain, an extraordinary feat without the supplementary oxygen which is seen as essential today.
Wirral Council found some pioneering spirit of its own when it pushed forward, via Wirral Growth Company, to make Mallory and Irvine a reality. The breakthrough was the backing of institutional investor Canada Life.
In contrast Liverpool’s central business district has not seen any major grade A space brought onto the market since the completion of the St Paul’s Square development more than a decade ago.
There is demand for quality office space in the CBD. Avision Young’s Big Nine UK office market survey revealed earlier this year that headline rents were now above £25 per sq ft.
However the firm’s Ian Steele, the firm’s principal in Liverpool, developers would want to see rents hit £28 per sq ft before they would be prepared to build speculatively.
New space has appeared in Liverpool in the last couple of years. The Spine, across the city in the Knowledge Quarter has come out of the ground. But the CBD is seeing only refurbishment of existing space, the 140,000 sq ft Martins Bank building the best example.
In Birkenhead, just five minutes from Liverpool city centre on the Merseyrail underground, lower rents has not proved to be an impediment to development. CBRE is quoting headline rents in Mallory and Irvine of £18.50 per sq ft.
This is identical to recent deals in The Plaza in Liverpool’s St Paul’s Square and well below the £22.50 per sq ft achieved at 20 Chapel Street nearby.
CBRE’s Neil Kirkham says the early interest from potential occupiers in Mallory and Irvine has been “very encouraging” and says that talks are under way.
“The office specification is as good as any asset across the regional market and the flexibility of the floorplates makes the building ideal for a wide range of occupiers,” he said
“An airy and grand reception with security barriers sets exactly the right tone for businesses who want to project their brands whilst attracting and retaining talented people.
“The column-free floorplates allow occupiers complete flexibility in their workplace strategies and excellent BREEAM and platinum WiredScore ratings are just some of the accreditations that make Mallory and Irvine a best-in-class home for ambitious tenants.”
Both buildings were designed by architects AHR and built by Morgan Sindall. These are the first of a series of major interventions that will transform central Birkenhead over the next decade, says Councillor Paul Stuart, leader of Wirral Council.
“Birkenhead has an extraordinary history to draw upon, not least reflected in the names of these offices, Mallory and Irvine, and of course Alice Ker Square where they are located, named for the pioneering doctor and suffragette,” he explained.
“These offices are just the start of what will be a massive transformation in Birkenhead town centre, a key part of our ambitious regeneration plans set to deliver real and positive change for residents, businesses and visitors across the whole Left Bank.”
Neil Kirkham says the development’s location will enable occupiers to tap into both Wirral and Liverpool’s large populations, as well as their commercial cores.
“We’re a minute from Birkenhead bus station and just two minutes’ walk for Conway Park Merseyrail station, itself only two stops from Liverpool’s Pier Head.
“In addition, boasting more than 1,300 car spaces within a 200 metre walk, these offices offer all the benefits of a business park location in the heart of a town centre environment.”
“These are the only grade A buildings being completed in the Liverpool city region in 2023 and they offer the very latest in sustainability and wellness.”
As for Liverpool, the frustration for agents, who believe there is latent occupier demand, continues. While the city council can’t force investors to invest and developers to develop, there are some who believe the authority could be more proactive.
It was involved in the plan to create office space in Pall Mall. But the withdrawal of a pre-let offer from communications giant BT during the pandemic has seen that project put on ice.
There is also a fear that the fallout from internal council failures that led to Government commissioners being sent in to run the city, has dampened the authority’s appetite to engage with developers.
There has been some improvement but one property professional told LBN more needs to be done. He said: “There has been some improvement and a recognition of where we need to get to – but they need to step up the pace a little.”