ECONOMY

Build it and they will come, says head of King’s Cross estate

Commercial property updates

The chief executive of London’s King’s Cross estate says that employees who have grown used to their home desks during the pandemic will return to the city “if the offer is good enough”, as construction starts on its first offices purpose-built for flexible working. 

Like other cities, London’s office sector was upended last year by the mass shift to homeworking prompted by the pandemic. Some companies scaled back their office space, betting that hybrid working is here to stay. Developers have responded to this threat by pouring money into flexible, modern offices to give cautious employees a reason to come in to the city.

King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership, the site’s landowner, has struck an agreement with The Office Group — a property provider majority owned by US buyout house Blackstone — to create a 170,000 sq ft space that it said would be designed for flexible working and collaboration.

The offices will be located in one of two 13-storey blocks that make up the building, with the other residential. Between the two, a ground floor “town hall” will hold public and corporate events, as well as spaces throughout the offices for fitness, meditation and wellness.

“People will return and businesses will be in central London if the offer is good enough. In the end, you can’t do everything at home,” said Robert Evans, chief executive of the King’s Cross estate, citing meetings and projects best done in person.

“The town hall is for us an opportunity to create a facility that is a gathering place for the King’s Cross estate, [for] people coming to the estate, or people on the estate, to use it as their space,” said Charlie Green, The Office Group’s co-founder and co-chief executive.

Gatherings could be held to watch sporting events, he said, or to support the local community. “The message is that this building is accessible,” he added.

The building is being designed by London-based architects Piercy&Company. The offices, Green said, would be peppered with private areas for workers needing “visual privacy and acoustic privacy”, reflecting how videoconferencing has become embedded in working practices.

London’s public spaces have shown signs of a revival in recent months. In August, Shaftesbury, one of the city’s biggest landlords, said footfall in the West End was running at 50-60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Offices at King’s Cross are generally quieter than its public spaces, Evans said. Demand at restaurants on the site were back to pre-Covid levels, he added, estimating that public footfall was more than 60 per cent of what it was before the pandemic. 

The new King’s Cross office building is under construction and is due to be completed in 2024. Three other offices have been finished this year on the 67-acre estate, which is majority owned by the AustralianSuper pension fund, alongside UK developer Argent and asset manager Federated Hermes. The UK government sold its stake more than five years ago.

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