Take-up of office space in Birmingham city centre was down 60 per cent last year as the market struggled to match the bumper previous 12 months.
While 2003 is best summarised as a "year of indecision", this year has a much brighter outlook, according to Jonathan Carmalt, who heads King Sturge's office a g e n c y d e p a r t m e n t i n Birmingham.
His comments came as CGIS unveiled the largest single, new grade A office space within Birmingham's central core to commercial property agents at its mixed use development City Plaza on Temple Row.
Located on the first floor of City Plaza, the new office space is part of a 58,000 sq ft office tower, which features curved glazing looking out over the city's St Phillips cathedral and Colmore Row.
The entrance hall and common parts of the office building have been refurbished to a thoroughly contemporary design, featuring a striking new entrance and reception hall for the office tower, where current tenants include 3i, Baker Tilly, AXA General Insurance and Jardine Lloyd Thompson.
So, does this fit the bill of what employees - and their companies - want?
It certainly does, according to new research. Increasingly, many employees want to be close to a major transport facility - and a sandwich shop or coffee house - while companies think that "image" is everything when recruiting new employees.
While access to public transport is becoming more important, latest research from King Sturge confirms that the average UK employee still relies heavily on the car to commute to and from work. Congestion charging, road pricing and parking tax will no doubt be strong deciding factors when employees - and companies - consider their choice of office locations in the future, but, for now, 77 per cent of commuters use their car at some point in their daily journey to work.
According to King Sturge's survey into the human impact of office buildings, the average journey time for an employee working in a central business location is 45 minutes - 36 minutes for those working in a business park environment.
The survey also confirms that most people believe there will be a greater mix of working from office and home in the future.
"Indeed, working from home for part of a week may hold the clue to a more sustainable future," suggested Mr Carmalt.
Interestingly, for those who are office-based, the survey suggests that the average UK employee is away from his desk for four hours and ten minutes every day.
Time away is largely taken up by meetings, either held internally or conducted off-site.
"However, this is unlikely to lead to employers embarking on more hot-desking initiatives, as where an employee works is extremely important in terms of their overall efficiency, including a sense of place and morale with colleagues," said Mr Carmalt.
"Over 34 per cent of those surveyed said the location should be close to a major transport hub, followed by a sandwich shop, restaurant and coffee shops."
However, he added that while more than 70 per cent believed that public transport would become more important in choosing office locations in the future, only 20.9 per cent of companies interviewed currently had a green transport policy.
"It is very clear that town planners, office occupiers, investors and central government all need to re-think how to make office employment more sustainable," said Mr Carmalt.
King Sturge's report, Office Buildings: The Human Impact, which surveyed more than 320 occupiers, also reveals that centrally-located occupiers consider the external image of an office building as being very important, with some using the image to attract new employees.
Almost 60 per cent believed the quality of the office environment would become even moreimportant in recruiting employees in the future.
Meanwhile, looking at the Birmingham city centre office market, Mr Carmalt said that 2004 had started brightly with the announcement of a 65,000 sq ft letting in St Philip's Place to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
This year, the only new-build city centre opportunities that will complete are Richardson Barberry's No 1 Colmore Square - where lawyers Martineau Johnson and accountants Ernst & Young have already signed up - and 134 Edmund Street, providing a combined total of 170,000 sq ft.
Of the 2.1 million sq ft of office accommodation currently available in Birmingham city centre and Edgbaston, only about seven percent is classed as quality Grade A space, with prime rents remaining at #27.50 per sq ft. Mr Carmalt said that because of the low volume of deals last year - there were none of over 35,000 sq ft - city centre take-up was down to 373,873 sq ft, whereas the figures for 2002 had been boosted by a number of large pre-lets.
However, he added: "There are a number of large occupiers in negotiations to take new space, particularly in the legal and government-related sectors."
Joint letting agents of the City Plaza offices are Lambert Smith Hampton and Jones Lang Lasalle.
According to Ian Martin, associate director at Jones Lang Lasalle, the immediate availability of such a large floorplate in a primelocation, means that there is much interest.
According to Philippa Pickavance, Regional Director of Office Agency for Lambert Smith Hampton, the new entrance and refurbishment has brought the building to the fore of city centre office locations.