It’s all change in the area immediately next to Cambridge railway station. Developer Brookgate, supported by Aviva Investors, is now a substantial way through its CB1 regeneration project. Emerging from the station, visitors are greeted by an enhanced public square, including offices, cafes and bars. Predictably, it is also liberally festooned with bicycles.
The latest addition to the development is to be found a stone’s throw away on the main route into the city centre. 50-60 Station Road, designed by award-winning architecture firm Grimshaw, is certainly a handsome addition to the street. At 156,000 sq ft, it is also one of the biggest grade A office buildings to have been completed in central Cambridge for decades and brings much needed new space to a city starved of modern commercial property.
Perhaps most impressively, 50-60 Station Road’s backers claim that “from a connectivity and fibre perspective, it is currently the best provided building in the UK”, achieving download speeds of 10GB. So, what is so special about the building?
50-60 Station Road is the result of Aviva Investors’ decision around four years ago to consolidate its investments into what it regarded as the UK’s core markets, specifically London, the Thames Valley, Birmingham, Manchester and Cambridge. At that time, the investor had no significant grade A office holdings in Cambridge, so acting as investment partner on CB1 provided an opportunity to build a substantial portfolio in short order.
“It gives Aviva Investors scale and dominance as the grade A landlord of choice in the in-town Cambridge market,” says Christian Anderton, who worked for Aviva until the summer and is now established in a freelance capacity, included in his stable is the role of advising principal at Node, the Manchester-based technology firm that provided the fibre connectivity at 50-60 Station Road. “The delivery of 50-60 Station Road was about Aviva Investors becoming a landlord of choice in the UK, to provide best-in-class buildings and excel in terms of its customer proposition. This could not have happened without the vision and expertise of Brookgate as a market-leading developer.”
Part of the ambition to provide those best in class buildings was the decision to bring in Node, which is still a relatively young company but has also provided digital infrastructure on other major projects such as No.1 Spinningfields in Manchester. “That relationship was born out of some of the investments I had been involved with in Manchester [while at Aviva],” says Anderton.
At the most basic level, Node provides landlord-controlled connectivity infrastructure, which in addition to ensuring access to agnostic ultra-high-speed fibre, saves time and money. In the normal course of things, individual companies within a multi-let office choose an internet service provider (ISP) and the ISP and company then have to secure what is known as a wayleave agreement with the landlord in order to access the company’s space within a building and install cables.
The issue is that can all take time and cause inconvenience to the occupier – some ISPs in Cambridge have quoted periods of up to 90 days. What’s more, with multiple ISPs serving multiple tenants, the building’s system is accessible to any ISP whenever they need to access it, which causes security issues. “What Node does is it gives the landlord full control of its building infrastructure as it relates to connectivity. In a rapidly evolving, demanding marketplace, where data management and security is increasingly one of a business’s greatest risks, Node presents that solution,” says Anderton.
“That includes a landlord controlled secure comms room. Node puts in the building infrastructure and gives the landlord full control. As such, it delivers a fully cyber-secure system and it does away with the need for the tenant to agree any kind of wayleave through the landlord with a service provider or for any third party to have discretionary access to the network. As a supplier-neutral network solution, we are turning the internet in to tap water.”
So, the tenant is removed from the wayleave agreement, which means that landlords only have to do agreements with ISPs once, rather than for every new occupier or when an occupier changes their ISP. That speeds things up for tenants, but it also provides benefits to the landlord. “The landlord avoids the costs time and time again,” says Anderton.
“In a building like 50-60 Station Road, you have 13 office occupiers and most of those will have two or three connections and you’re looking at around £2,000 per wayleave. In a building of that size you could be looking at £50,000 to £100,000 worth of wayleave agreements for the landlord to sign in the process. The actual cost of installing a Node system alone is less than that, so that puts its value into perspective.”
In terms of attracting occupiers, the decision to use Node’s technology came too late to have made a significant difference to derisking the occupational strategy on this occasion. Node was brought in around three months before practical completion on 50-60 Station Road, by which time the building had already secured a raft of high calibre tenants, including Amazon, Samsung and law firm Eversheds Sutherland. Ideally, in order to maximise its utility and value to the greatest extent possible, Node would see itself involved from as early as Stage 2 design, but is adaptable at any point in the development programme, even post practical completion.
This doesn’t surprise Vincenzo Maggio, partner at law firm Mills & Reeve, the offices of which are located close by. Maggio says that high profile occupiers are attracted to high-tech buildings, as well as environmentally friendly ones (50-60 Station Roads holds BREEAM ‘excellent’ accreditation). “I think it resonates with them and developers are having to future proof their buildings,” he says. “High tech buildings are there because the market as a whole demands them.”
According to Anderton, the Cambridge in-town market is so starved of modern, grade A office space that 50-60 Station Road created its own market. The figures support that view. Savills’ latest research on the Cambridge office market states: “There has been a general downward trend in supply levels in the last five years and strong demand has resulted in supply falling. There is approximately 647,000 sq ft available which is 13% below the long-term average of 745,000 sq ft. New development has not resulted in supply increasing.”
However, Anderton does think that the secure fibre, high-speed connectivity and simplicity of set up delivered by Node are true differentiators. “One of the advantages that Node typically brings to the table is in de-risking the occupational strategy for a building and reducing voids,” he says. “We are already starting to see landlords being able to increase rental levels on like-for-like basis. It supports the landlord’s letting agents in the process to get commitments to a scheme. When these factors start to drive investment value, the proposition becomes more than self-financing.”
Anderton adds that despite unawareness of the company prior to occupation, the response to Node from tenants at 50-60 Station Road has been positive. “I think we can say that in every case, they had no previous knowledge of Node,” he says. “In every case, Node worked with them to explain the system and how it worked and how best they could integrate with it. Without exception, the feedback was very strong.
“Alongside flexibility and customer service, this is simply what occupiers are increasingly demanding as industry standard. Working alongside landlords, agents and their on-site team, our value proposition demands an exceptional level of connectivity management, such that once a business experiences a Node connected building, it becomes their new normal.”