A boss at commercial real estate experts JLL says he believes Wolverhampton needs more investment to bring its older office buildings into the 21st century.
Ian Cornock, head of Midlands at JLL which has its regional office in Church Street, Birmingham, explains how the city's "retrofit" can be tackled in order to allow it to compete against other cities.
He said huge progress has been made in Wolverhampton, including the move of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to the new i9 office block near the city's railway station. The redevelopment of the station and the expansion of the Midland Metro is also making it a more attractive place for business.
But Mr Cornock said much more needed to be done with existing buildings in the city both to make them more attractive but also to ensure theycan meet ambitious green net zero targets.
He said: "The last few years has attracted inward investors, with the main one being the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, providing a boost to the city’s office market. Inward investment is on the up and the number of regeneration-orientated projects springing up across the city has been exciting to witness.
"Yet, if Wolverhampton wants to battle more equally alongside its neighbours – who are pushing for earlier net zero status – it needs to compete in the race to retrofit older office stock.
"For a significant number of businesses in Wolverhampton, and in other cities like it, the biggest obstacle to achieving net zero is the very buildings they occupy. Our recent report, Sustainability and Value in the Regions, found that the vast majority of office stock in the UK – 85 per cent – isn’t yet on track to meet the Government target for all non-domestic properties to be EPC B by 2030.
"Forthcoming schemes will help to set a new standard for sustainable offices, but we can’t rely on building our way out of the problem – razing an entire city to the ground and starting again is hardly that sustainable. The existing commercial property stock in this city must become fit for purpose if Wolverhampton is to even hit its own target of net zero status by 2041. Retrofitting has to become more of a priority.
"Upgrading older offices, of course, isn’t without its challenges, particularly when it comes to making alterations to our beautiful, heritage buildings. Numerous consultations must be taken with a range of planning authorities before works can begin, to ensure the character of the building will remain intact.
"Although not without difficulty, the benefits of making these improvements far outweigh the challenges they bring and will ultimately be felt as acutely by the individual tenant as the landlord.
"Through the retrofitting process, and supporting an occupier to reach their own net zero ambitions, the landlord is left with a future proofed asset that will mitigate devaluation risk as legislation evolves over time. Making this happen will help to maximise the appeal of the city to would-be investors, particularly as others start to achieve their 2030 targets."
He said landlords and developers have the potential make themselves "heroes" by improving their offices, but added: "Tenants too must also play their part in sharing the cost of upgrading existing buildings if we want Wolverhampton to not only compete, but lead the charge towards the future. This shared burden may well appear in the form of green leases where the environmental management and costs of the property, such as utility bills and energy green energy choices, are factored in.
"What we’re hearing from landlords is a clear desire to include green credentials in their leases but a hesitancy too – conscious of making them too onerous. In future, though, we’re expecting a shift towards tightened lease clauses to support this drive to operationally net zero carbon buildings. If the will from the business community, evidenced by the numbers that participated in the COP26 conversation, continues in the same direction then embedding sustainability into clauses can only be a good thing for everyone.
"Wolverhampton is making strides towards our net zero future, but only with bolder action can this city reach its full potential. We should be encouraged by the momentum that is already being built as businesses continue to be inspired by Andy Street and our city leaders in the council who are already taking action, but there is an opportunity here too for businesses to embrace the challenge."