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Cambridge: Latest report paints picture of ‘the greatest small city in the world’

31/07/2023

News

Mark Critchley, Director at Eddisons, shares his thoughts on a new report published this summer that sets out to portray the state of the city.

Cambridge City Portrait: State of the City 2023 is a report Cambridge City Council commissioned analysts, Cambridge Econometrics, to produce.

While data-driven, it is far from dry in its portrayal of the city through ‘Six Lenses’ and there is even an online dashboard that ‘walks’ you through the data for each ‘lens’.

In the report’s foreword and introduction, the City Council’s Assistant Chief Executive, Andrew Limb, quotes Cambridge as the ‘greatest small city in the world’.

Setting aside that I’ve not, knowingly or otherwise, worked in another city making this claim but have worked in Cambridge for 17 years, the phrase perfectly conveys the property scene here: it’s great but it’s small - and that’s not without consequences.

Those doing business in the city will, undoubtedly, zoom straight in on the Business & Enterprise lens to highlight & comment on some of the most salient points to their own sector - as we have.

"The majority of land in Cambridge remains undeveloped, a rate unchanged over the past 5 years"

The supply of development land remains tight and, within the city boundaries, is often restricted to development of brownfield sites. Inevitably, this pushes up land values.

 

"Commercial property costs in Cambridge are some of the highest in the country"

This is most acute in the city’s core and main railway station area, spilling over to the northern boundary of the city to the Science Park where there’s a new development focus centred on the Cambridge North railway station.

"… Cambridge start-ups are more resilient and more likely to survive"

Start-ups often experience rapid growth, significantly increasing floor space requirements within months. Eddisons has been involved in a few acquisitions for start-ups where their space requirements have increased during the process of drafting leases for premises.

 

"Relative costs in Cambridge (City & Fringe) are highest for industrial space, which were 46% above the national city average in 2021/22"

Cambridge is not immune to the national picture where, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the industrial sector has boomed. When we are acting for landlords on rent reviews & lease renewals, it’s not unheard of to be quoting 50% increases which, in simply reflecting where the market is, is met with disbelief by incumbent tenants.

"Cambridge’s research and development works force continues to grow"

The standout feature of the past two years has been activity in the Cambridge laboratory market. Boosted by the pandemic and the growth of life sciences businesses, the demand for lab/R&D space has reached a record high, resulting in a huge investment in the sector and a race on to deliver new stock.

"... Cambridge’s retail vacancy rate after June 2021, averaging 12%, was the 4th lowest of 58 cities in England and Wales"

There is a low level of empty units in the city centre. While one or two have experienced extended void periods, the resumption of the tourist & hospitality trades post-pandemic sees most now taken up by food & beverage sector operators.

"Cambridge’s workforce is growing faster than the number of homes though. Buying a home in Cambridge has become increasingly unaffordable"

The residential & commercial property markets more than overlap in this respect, with people having to look further afield for accommodation of all tenures.

 

Cambridge will always remain in the foreground of any picture portrait of the East of England. But it’s effect reaches well beyond its city boundaries. It is a great small city but, increasingly, what is meant by ‘Cambridge’ offers a much, much broader landscape.

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