Agenda item

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY

-  Update from Openreach regarding the installation of fibre optic cable

-  Provision of new office space in Bromley town centre

Minutes:

Update from Openreach regarding the installation of fibre optic cable

 

The Chairman welcomed Paul Harding – Regional Partnership Manager, Openreach (“Regional Partnership Manager”) and Ian Meacher – Senior Project Manager, Openreach (“Senior Project Manager”) to the meeting to provide an update on the installation of fibre optic cable across the borough.

 

Openreach had worked closely with Bromley to create and ratify a Digital Charter to support a faster rollout of ultrafast Full Fibre broadband for homes and businesses across the borough. Announcements made earlier in the year, regarding the 53 Greater London locations identified as part of their 25 million premise ambition to fibre up the country, incorporated additional builds to towns and rural locations. In addition to the 470,000 homes and businesses already delivered to across the capital, this would add an additional 840,000 to their rollout plans. This represented over £336m of investment into the capital, and Openreach’s commercial build was fundamental to the Government achieving its target of delivering ‘gigabit capable’ broadband to 85% of the UK by 2025. Openreach played an important role across Greater London, with more than 4,700 of their people living and working in the capital. Recent research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) highlighted the clear economic benefits of connecting everyone in London to Full Fibre, estimating that this would create a £13.8billion boost to the local economy.

 

Across Bromley, Openreach were working across five exchange areas. The biggest to date was in Orpington with over 20,000 premises now enabled to place an order. So far, take up was low, with just over 1,000 premises now consuming an ultrafast service – as such there was a big opportunity to boost take up in this area. The builds across Grove Park and Farnborough were progressing well, with over 10,000 premises now enabled for service, and early stages of work had commenced in Biggin Hill and Chislehurst and Hayes Common.

 

Councillor Hannah Gray, Executive Assistant for Renewal, Recreation and Housing/Small Business Champion, noted that it would be good to see the areas of the rollout identified more clearly. She was aware of commercial sensitivity but highlighted that it would be useful to be kept up to date and provided with as much information as possible. Members could then pass this information on to the BIDs and networking groups, who could disseminate it further – people could not sign up for ultrafast Full Fibre broadband if they did not know it was available. The Regional Partnership Manager advised that there was an online tool which indicated the availability of ultrafast Full Fibre broadband by postcode and agreed that further thought could be given as to what other information they could provide to Members. Councillor Gray further suggested that flyers could be produced and delivered to the specific areas of rollout along with other communications from the Local Authority.

 

Visiting Ward Member, Councillor Vanessa Allen asked for further information regarding the plans for the rollout of ultrafast Full Fibre broadband between Beckenham and Crystal Palace. The Regional Partnership Manager said that this area was not in the immediate plan of work to take place before 2026, but he would provide more precise dates following the meeting. Mike Humphries, Handelsbanken highlighted that there was a raft of the borough that would not be able to access ultrafast Full Fibre broadband in the immediate future and emphasised the importance of shortening the timescales as much as possible. In response to a question from the Chairman, the Regional Partnership Manager said that the maps provided indicated the rollout to be completed by Openreach, however it was noted that there would already be some existing fibre optic capacity in the borough, delivered by other network providers.

 

Lee Thomas, Fairlight Group requested the headlines in terms of speed and capacity across London – including other outer London boroughs; the Bromley borough; central Orpington; and the commercial districts. Visiting Ward Member, Councillor Yvonne Bear asked what percentage of the borough would have access to ultrafast Full Fibre broadband, once the work on the five exchanges was complete. It was highlighted that not all areas of the borough would be covered by exchanges that were actually located in the borough. Areas such as the Cray Valley, which was one of the main industrial sites, was a particular issue and information was requested relating to plans for sites around the edge of the borough. The Regional Partnership Manager and Senior Project Manager agreed they would provide responses to these questions following the meeting.

 

Sharon Baldwin, Orpington 1st BID Company said that it was good to see that Orpington would be receiving ultrafast Full Fibre broadband – however a number of its businesses worked out of several other locations across the borough, which may suffer from a slower speed connection. She would be happy to promote this opportunity within her BID area but needed to be clear exactly what she was promoting and how it would support businesses. It was suggested that this could be discussed further with the Regional Partnership Manager and Senior Project Manager outside of the meeting. Councillor Gray agreed that it was important to rollout ultrafast Full Fibre broadband across the whole of the borough, with an aim to be the first borough covered in London, but it was vital that there were no gaps. It was suggested that a project timescale be provided, which set the expectations for each stage.

 

The Chairman thanked Paul Harding and Ian Meacher for their presentation to the Partnership.

 

 

Provision of new office space in Bromley town centre

 

Ben Johnson, LBB Head of Planning Policy and Strategy informed Members that Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) were being produced for Bromley and Orpington town centres. SPDs provided further guidance regarding Local Plan policies and details on how they should be implemented. There were restrictions on what could be done in town centres, but the directorate were keen to make the most of the policies and ensure that new, high quality, office space was provided. Members were asked for their thoughts regarding the provision of new office space in Bromley town centre.

 

Mike Lewis, Michael Rogers LLP, highlighted that it had been around forty years since there had been major office development in Bromley town centre, which it was noted had been occupied by large organisations. The existing stock had become fragmented, and the buildings tired – some were almost at the point where they were unlettable unless significant sums of money were thrown at them.

 

There was a drive for quality, as occupiers did not want 1980’s, second-hand spaces. The Threadneedle – T Building (formerly Wren Court) had been ripped back to its shell, and around £150 per sq. ft. had been spent on the refurbishment of the building. This was a quality building that was achieving rents of up to £35 per sq. ft. It was noted that the Bromley Park Group had recently launched a development of just under 100,000 sq. ft. in Elmfield Road, which had received planning permission last year, and would provide further quality lets. The geography of Bromley town centre made it very competitive, particularly due to its good transport connections.

 

Lee Thomas, Fairlight Group, informed Members that the company had owned a building on Elmfield Road for a number of years, which offered flexible workspace. The ‘Bromley Park’ development was in the prime office district, and it was considered that A+ grade offices needed to be built in the town centre in order to once again attract big companies. Large companies used to rent a whole floor within an office, but due to a lack of demand for tired, older office buildings, these had now been divided up to offer smaller lets, with smaller companies generally. This in turn set the tone for the average ‘Bromley Town’ occupier, with an almost complete absence of larger PLC occupiers like the Town/Borough used to enjoy. This had an impact on the whole town centre as there was no longer a “trickle down” effect from the bigger businesses to the smaller ones. Members were advised that nearly all of the recent lettings in central London were for quality, new build spaces – these were receiving decent interest from large operators, which was something that had not been seen in Bromley for decades.

 

Mr Lewis highlighted that there was a closing window of opportunity. Without new, large, high quality office space being provided in the town centre, it would become “flat land”, which would not attract big businesses into Bromley. In response to a question from the Chairman, Mr Lewis said that Wells House was currently the largest building on Elmfield Road and had flats surrounding it. He understood residents not wanting to be overlooked by big buildings – however it was considered that an office block would be better as they were largely empty at weekends and therefore the perceived intrusion was not as significant. Mr Thomas said that an overview of Bromley showed lots of different sectors operating together and emphasised the need for office space to be retained as part of the eco-system. Commercial offices were good neighbour – in comparison, retail was at its capacity at weekends.

 

Bruce Walker, Lansdown Asset Management, noted that in other neighbouring boroughs, lots of people were moving from the outer areas into town centres to be closer to rail connections, where they worked, and the leisure offer. In response to questions from Mr Walker, Mr Lewis advised that for a number of years, Bromley had not been able to provide the spaces needed by large companies, as once buildings were fragmented, they “dropped off the radar”. It was highlighted that discussions were taking place with a prospective occupier for the largest part of the Bromley Park development. This was a large London company, who would be a single occupier, and it was not unusual for deals like this to take up to nine months to complete. Mr Thomas stated that big companies paid good salaries, which their staff would spend in the town centre where their premises were located. This vibrancy was evident in a number of locations, such as Watford and Woking, and was supplemented by the eco-system which included offices. Mr Walker considered that Bromley town centre was small in comparison to the areas listed and asked what could be done to offer more to big businesses. Sharon Baldwin, Orpington 1st BID Company, said it was about balance and repositioning Bromley as a borough. The eco-system needed to be better performing, and big businesses would bring the movement of money into the borough. Mr Lewis agreed that occupiers of office buildings could have an impact on the retail and leisure offer. It was emphasised that a robust strategy for the town centre was needed, to ensure everyone was working together, and it should not be filled with residential units.

 

The LBB Head of Planning Policy and Strategy acknowledged that there had been lots of issues raised, which would be taken into account by the team. It was noted that Elmfield Road was a priority area for office development, however it was not possible to fully restrict residential development.

 

The Chairman thanked Members for their input to the discussion.

 

RESOLVED that the presentation and discussion be noted.

 

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