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Paul Wookey - Chief Executive of Locate in Kent

Paul Wookey - Chief Executive of Locate in Kent

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Property changes store up problems for businesses

Paul Wookey - Chief Executive of Locate in Kent

Paul Wookey - Chief Executive of Locate in Kent

More than 90 per cent of Kent companies employ fewer than 10 people and are the lifeblood of the county’s economy. With Permitted Development Rights (PDR) now making it easy to convert a property from commercial to residential, Paul Wookey, Chief Executive of Locate in Kent believes there is a danger that the already limited availability of suitable premises, especially smaller offices, may become a problem for companies large and small.

Given the rise in residential values in the county, and the low cost of securing planning for change of use under PDR, it’s easy to understand why landlords are making a dash for the cash.

One unintended consequence of the loosening of the planning regime has been to significantly reduce the availability of commercial property, especially small offices in former residential buildings, forcing businesses into substandard space, or worse still, not enabling them to expand and grow, going out of business or moving out of the county.

Worryingly, from our perspective as the inward investment agency, is the impact the new rules are having on our clients and particularly the international companies we‘re working with.

When a company looks to invest overseas, its first home is sometimes a small office, effectively a beachhead while it recruits staff, meets customers and looks for larger premises. With the decline of the smaller premises, there’s the danger Kent could struggle to land these international companies.

The interesting thing about overseas companies is that they will often source their legal, HR and accountancy skills locally, and purchase their vehicles and IT locally as well, which is why Locate in Kent is constantly seeking to attract new overseas companies to the county. They also tend to employ more highly skilled staff and expand more quickly than domestic companies.

At Locate in Kent, we work closely with property agents and have created which, when combined with our free and confidential service, can take much of the hassle out of finding a new home for your business.

Across the county there are great examples of serviced offices, for instance Churchill Square at Kings Hill, Innovation Centre Medway and The Nucleus, Dartford, but these facilities are often full.  

On the outskirts of Maidstone near Barming Station is Gallagher Properties’ Hermitage Court development, which has just seen the completion of two speculative office buildings that can be divided to support a number of companies.

Kent Science Park, near Sittingbourne, has developed a strong offering for small companies, especially those that might also require laboratory space alongside a community of knowledge-based businesses, and the ability to expand.

There are now more than 75 companies at Discovery Park, the former Pfizer HQ at Sandwich. Many of the new arrivals are start-ups and small companies in the life sciences sector, or East Kent outposts for existing Kent companies, many in the professional and business services sector.

Our statistics show that demand for offices of most sizes had decreased as companies become more flexible and space-efficient, but demand for the smaller units has more than doubled. There is a market for small flexible office space for local businesses, and this presents a development and refurbishment opportunity for commercial property companies.

While it’s clear there are pockets of good availability when it comes to smaller commercial premises, this is a situation that requires close attention if we are not to stifle local growth and our ability to attract inward investment.

Paul Wookey is Chief Executive of Locate in Kent

Search and find the perfect commercial property in Kent for your business. Locate in Kent gives advice and relocation support to international and UK companies looking to move or expand. Call +44 (0)1732 520700 or email


Locate in Kent would like to thank - Canterbury Christ Church University, Discovery Park, Frogmore, Kent County Council, Liberty Property Trust UK, London Array, Medway Council, Thanet Earth, University of Kent and Visit Kent - for the use of their images on this website.

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