Slough prepares for £450m uplift
Rarely in Slough’s short history has the chance to boost its image been so great.
Developers have noticed the town’s proximity to London and Heathrow airport makes it probably the biggest beneficiary of Crossrail and the proposed western rail link to the airport. Combined with the capital's sky-high property prices and rents and possible Heathrow expansion, Slough is witnessing a massive uplift including the £450 million Heart of Slough project and many other private schemes.
There are 34 developments in Heart of Slough alone which incorporates 3,000 new homes, three hotels and 90,000 sq ft of Grade A offices. Several schemes are staring this year and developers are, according to Joe Carter, assistant director of assets, infrastructure and regeneration at Slough Borough Council, ‘cottoning on’ along with major employers in London who have noticed the lower rents and prices of both commercial and residential property.
He said: “What we are seeing is London occupiers looking for space outside London, either for back office functions or for headquarters functions. If they can get this sort of space at these sort of rents, why wouldn’t they? Crossrail can add to the attractiveness. We have not been in this position for a quite a while and everybody else is catching onto that.”
Those rents are currently around the low £20s psf range but the council’s head of asset management Stephen Gibson says there are set to rise. He said: “All the market analysis points to the fact that rents are going up. This will coincide with Crossrail. At the moment rents are around £20 - £25 (psf) but they are going to be £30 or more.”
The Curve, an arts, performance and community hub, which opens this year, will incorporate the town’s new library, freeing up a High Street site, currently earmarked for two hotels among a mix of uses. Slough Urban Renewal (SUR), launched in 2013, a joint venture between the council and Morgan Sindall, will see many of the housing developments come to fruition and allow the council a big say in what the developer builds. Soon the Milestone development in Ledgers Road will unveil 73 homes while another 100 are in the pipeline at Wexham Nursery.
Leisure is undergoing a major overhaul with closure of the Montem Centre – to be replaced by 100 homes – and its facilities replaced by a new centre in Farnham Road. Langley Sports Centre is currently being refurbished and over a two year period all the borough’s leisure facilities will be upgraded. Morgan Sindall is also providing a community sports facility which will provide a home for Slough Town FC, who currently have to play at Beaconsfield.
When The Curve is complete the library will move in, freeing up a High Street site for two hotels.
Windsor Road will be the site of 100 new homes and is one of many key routes where the infrastructure is being improved. It will have four lanes while work currently going on in Tuns Lane will mean new traffic lights replacing the Copthorne roundabout. A mass rapid transit scheme will transport workers from the station to Bath Road offices, stopping at strategic points such as offices of major employers.
Mr Carter said: “These big infrastructure improvements will be delivering this before the other developments come on stream so we can support all the growth.”
But the infrastructure is not just about roads. The new Lynch Hill Academy is already providing school places and additional GP services are planned. Slough Trading Estate is seeing major improvements as owner Segro is renewing and redeveloping much of the estate after selling off its Bath Road office buildings last year.
Two hotels, a data centre and a new base for food firm Bidvest 3663 are among the developments and Segro has just announced a letting to Clean Linen Services which completes the first 71,000 sq ft phase of its Buckingham Avenue development.
Two major longer term redevelopments include a massive mixed use scheme on the site of the former Thames Valley University which could include 1,500 more homes along with office and leisure developments, and another at the Queensmere shopping centre which has permission for a refurbishment and 674 flats built above.
And while the pace of change is so high the council is now working with local business to investigate what’s behind the town’s traditionally negative image. Local firms have been asked to identify the main drivers and barriers to doing business in the town.
Mr Carter said Slough cannot boast generations of residents or much by way of history as it barely existed before 1948, when the trading estate was a shunting depot.
What it does well he said, is constantly re-invent itself and there is new branding and promotion along with a different look and feel to the new developments.
He added: “We are asking ‘what’s your perception of Slough?’ and we are asking those who would not come to Slough, ‘why?’. Outside the authority there’s a perception of a negative image of Slough itself. We are trying to get to grips with what the reason for that might be to develop a model that builds a positive image for the town.”