Wolverhampton City Council is planning to plough £13m into the development of grade-A office space in a bid to attract civil service jobs – particularly among new agencies expected to be created as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.
This week members of the West Midlands authority’s cabinet gave their approval for the funding, which would support developer ION’s proposals for a 4,600 sq m office building – known as i9 – close to the city’s mainline railway station and the Midland Metro tram line.
The decision, which needs final ratification from a full council meeting, was based on a business case that championed what the development sector calls “speculative build” and pointed to the complete absence of vacant high quality office accommodation in the city at present.
A report to the cabinet said the city centre did not currently have any high-quality office stock available to attract investment into the city, and that without available space Wolverhampton could not compete for new office space requirements.
“There is speculation that the government will create a raft of new agencies as a result of Brexit which would be placed outside the capital as part of the government’s drive to open up the civil service,” it said.
“i9 may be primed to capitalise upon this decentralisation. Many occupiers need space available in the short term and will not wait for space to become available when there are alternative options within the region.”
The report added that because i9 would be an environmentally high-performing building in a highly sustainable location, with relatively low long-term occupation costs, the building would be particularly attractive to government agencies' carbon-reduction targets.
Last year, then-Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore told Civil Service World he expected more than 20 new public bodies would be created as a result of Brexit, and pledged that all would be located outside of London.
The Conservative Party’s manifesto for for last year's general election also contained a commitment to move more government functions out to the regions in a drive that would have arm’s-length bodies at its vanguard.
“We will start moving significant numbers of UK government civil servants and other public servants out of London and the south-east to cities around the UK,” it said. “We will ensure that senior posts move too, so that operational headquarters as well as administrative functions are centred not in London but around Britain. And we will do so in a way that encourages the development of new clusters of public services, private businesses and, where appropriate, universities.”
It is now expected that a revised government estates strategy will be published in the spring with proposals for a “redistribution of public servants” around the country.
According to the report to Wolverhampton’s cabinet members, the i9 building – which is the work of Birmingham-based Glenn Howells Architects – would create 330 full time equivalent jobs.
The structure has not yet been granted planning permission, but ION believes it could be complete in 2020.