Ian Fishwick, Chairman of AdEPT, which has been based in the town for more than 15 years has come out in support of the TimesWe Believe campaign and thinks if the town does not get more office space it will no longer prosper.
“At the end of 2017 our third five-year lease was coming to an end. We expected our landlord to appreciate a tenant who had already been here for 15 years, choosing to extend another five years. Instead our landlord announced that a new lease would cost a whopping 53 per cent extra,” he explained.
He said his annual rent of £110,000 was to shoot up to be over £160,000 per year.
Mr Fishwick said the problem was outlined by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council leader David Jukes in the Timestwo weeks ago, and caused by the central government initiative that allows developers to buy up office blocks to convert them into housing.
“Our landlord’s explanation was simple,” he continued. “Around 200,000 square feet of commercial property in Tunbridge Wells had been turned into residential flats and we had nowhere else to go, so take it or leave it. In the end we paid the same money for two-thirds of our previous space.”
Hundreds of offices have closed since 2013 when the Government’s Permitted Development rights enabled landlords to convert office space into more profitable housing.
More than 82,000 sq ft of office space went last year alone when Vale House and Calverley House, formerly home to AJ Bell, were sold off for residential development.
Mr Fishwick believes the council’s Calverley Square project could be part of the answer to this shortage, as it is planned to contain 20,000sq ft of new office space to let.
“We started in 2003 with 12 to 20 employees, now we have 250 people over eight sites working for a business that sees £57million in sales every year.
“If we do not do something now, where is the next AdEPT going to come from?
“The council’s proposed development at Calverley Square includes much-needed new office space. If we cannot provide commercial property at a sensible price then businesses will not move to Tunbridge Wells. That would be a disaster for the town in the long term.
“Well done to William Benson, CEO of the council, and the whole team for trying to plan a long term future for the town.”