The development of life sciences and technology clusters of global standing underpins strong real estate market performance with new rental benchmarks being set, but the affordability of housing could serve as a brake on growth.
Cambridge has developed based upon its longstanding academic infrastructure, creating an appealing commercial and residential centre of national and global standing. The city’s highly qualified, highly skilled workforce has underpinned the rapid growth of both life sciences and technology clusters, which, in turn, have ensured that new office and laboratory space has been regularly absorbed.
The key challenge for Cambridge is to ensure that its growth does not negatively impact upon its cohesion. There are growing concerns about both the cost and range of housing available within the city, with house prices now equivalent to those in London. This could be a constraint on growth if not addressed.
Emerging government policy frameworks look set to bring additional focus to Cambridge. The UK Industrial Strategy, launched by the government at the end of 2017, is underpinned by four key business sectors, one of which is life sciences. This has a strong affinity with Cambridge – as exemplified by AstraZeneca’s relocation of its R&D facilities from Cheshire to the city.
The policy focus will inevitably serve to pave the way for further investment into Cambridge from venture capital funds and occupiers alike.
From a real estate standpoint, the ongoing imbalance between Grade A supply and occupier demand has served to fuel greater competition between occupiers for the very best space. This has, in turn, fuelled rental growth in the market with prime rents standing at £38.00 per sq ft in the city centre and set to rise to £42.50+ by mid 2018.
In the absence of a significant development pipeline over the medium term, we anticipate further rental growth over the next 12-18 months, particularly in the core market.
One of the global hubs of innovation in the life sciences and technology sectors and recognised as part of the Golden Triangle brand (alongside Oxford and London), Cambridge has suffered a similar fate to Oxford due to its constraining historic city centre. This trend is starting to reverse however with the redevelopment of the area around the main railway station drawing large occupiers such as Microsoft and Amazon into the city centre.
Ongoing investment in infrastructure, notably the opening of Cambridge North Station in May 2017, has resulted in greater connectivity into London from the science and business parks to the north of the city.
The global draw of Cambridge, its position as one of the UK’s fastest growing cities, coupled with the current supply and demand imbalance, will push headline rents to a record level of £42.50+ per sq ft in 2018 – making Cambridge the first South Eastern centre outside of central London to reach this benchmark. Proposals announced for the CaMkOx corridor linking by road the 70 miles in an arc from Oxford would further reinforce the strength of the city.