The team behind Centre Square – Middlesbrough’s flagship office development – believes the multi-million project will continue to fulfil its promise in 2021.
In the last 18 months One and Two Centre Square have been completed and are now being prepared for their first four occupiers.
The quality of the scheme has been recognised with a prestigious award from the construction industry, and now Middlesbrough council is being asked to approve plans for the next phase: a four storey 40,000 sq ft Grade A office building.
The developer Mark Ashall has revealed that even at this early stage talks are taking place with a blue-chip multinational company which is keen to take much of the space when – subject to planning permission – Six Centre Square is built.
He said his faith in the project has never wavered despite businesses facing one of their toughest periods, caused first by uncertainty over Brexit and – throughout much of this year – the pandemic. Middlesbrough Council also shelved plans to re-locate to Building One.
Mr Ashall was nevertheless sufficiently confident in the future of the scheme that his company Ashall Projects bought the land for Six Centre Square a year before any occupiers were confirmed for buildings One and Two and, during lockdown, it also went ahead with the demolition of the vacant office block on the site.
Throughout October Centre Square made headlines as four major employers – GB Bank, Causeway, XPS and Firstsource – announced they were moving in, bringing hundreds of jobs and safeguarding many more. The agreement with Firstsource marked the largest office letting in Middlesbrough for a quarter of a century.
“It’s all about the quality,” said Mr Ashall. “The decision by these businesses demonstrated that there is significant latent demand for Grade A office space in the region and that Centre Square and Middlesbrough has the potential to become a major office hub in the North of England.
“Forward thinking companies understand that making their staff engaged and productive is a key determinant of their success and that one of the main ways of achieving this is to provide them with a great working environment with easy access to local amenities and the transportation network. Centre Square provides the tools for them to achieve this in a way that many alternatives in the area cannot.”
Plans for the development began five years ago when a study identified that Middlesbrough lacked the top-quality office space it required to attract employers providing good, well-paid jobs.
The town and the whole of the Tees Valley had fallen behind other city regions, such as Leeds/ West Yorkshire. But, thanks to Centre Square, that picture is already beginning to change.
Alex Hailey – who worked on the deals to bring the first occupiers to Centre Square – is a director of CBRE, one of the world’s biggest commercial property companies. He works across the North East and Yorkshire. “Through lockdown the Middlesbrough market has probably been one of the most buoyant in the UK,” he said. “We’ve let over 70,000 sq ft of space in the town and, to put that into perspective, in Leeds during the same period only 15,000 sq ft was let.”
Fellow agent Stephen Brown, senior partner with Middlesbrough-based Dodds Brown, has worked in commercial property in Teesside for more than 30 years and believes that the Centre Square development is a game-changer.
“We’re on the radar. We’re out there fighting for more occupiers and more jobs and more investment,” he said. But, with much of the space in the first two buildings already occupied, it was vital that Six Centre Square gets the go-ahead to maintain the momentum. “We need to have that availability to attract jobs,” said Mr Brown. “Otherwise we will miss out on future opportunities.”
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said it was clear that, even in difficult times, the Centre Square project was attractive to employers. He added: “It’s fantastic to know that top businesses are already interested in future phases.
“Clearly any development will have to go through the planning process in the normal way, but the potential for jobs and long-term prosperity is huge.”