The new World Trade Center in Utrecht where PropertyEU has relocated exemplifies the trend towards super-sustainable buildings focused on worker wellbeing, writes editor-in-chief Judi Seebus.
Why would anyone – or any company – based in Amsterdam want to leave such a wonderful city for one so obscure as Utrecht? Everybody knows the two other big cities in the Netherlands – Rotterdam for its port, The Hague for the International Court of Justice – and of course Gouda for its cheese. But ask the average European where Utrecht is and most would look absolutely clueless.
Little wonder, then, that the news that PropertyEU and its sister companies PropertyNL and Ventu were relocating this year from the World Trade Center Amsterdam to the World Trade Center Utrecht sparked surprised reactions from some of our European team members and contacts. But there were also others that got it straightaway, people who have visited the Netherlands before and who know about Utrecht’s central location bang in the middle of the country and yet still less than 30 minutes away from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport by train or car. Indeed, that is less than it takes to get from Gatwick Airport to the West End of London.
TOP SUSTAINABILITY SCORE
The 32,000 m2 building on the west side of the city’s central railway station is the result of the redevelopment of an uninspiring concrete block by AM Real Estate Development.
It was delivered earlier this year with a BREAAM Excellent rating and is the first large office in the country to hold a WELL Building Standard certificate – meaning that the landlord has to measure, certify and safeguard certain building characteristics which affect the health and wellbeing of the occupants. The landlord in this case is CBRE Global Investors on behalf of the Dutch Office Fund (DOF). PropertyEU and its sister companies moved in as the first tenant on 1 June and discovered that the double certification (BREAAM and WELL Building) has far-reaching consequences for worker behaviour, interior furnishings and the way the office is used.
Workers are required, for example, to adhere to stringent norms with regard to waste separation. In practice, this means having to separate all materials from paper and plastic through to food and coffee pads. Failure to abide by this rule can result in sanctions. Waste disposal in general must be kept to a minimum, and workers must strive towards a ‘paperless office’ – a tall order for a publishing company with numerous print publications.
As to be expected of a BREAAM Excellent building, WTC Utrecht is equipped with solar panels, intelligent LED lights and heat regeneration systems. And in line with BREAAM requirements, all the building’s materials are sourced within a 30 km radius. However, an exception was made in PropertyEU’s case for the dark grey carpeting which originally comes from Africa. It is made of recycled plastic fish nets which were processed in France. CBRE GI is now reportedly considering using the same floor covering elsewhere in the building.
FLEXIBLE WORK STATIONS
Another novelty for PropertyEU is the ‘flexible workplace’. Instead of dedicated work stations, staff now turn up every morning at an empty, height-adjustable desk and plug their fixed phones into a console. Lighting, air conditioning and heating are all adjustable per group of four work stations.
To ensure that keyboards and desk surfaces stay clean, workers are not allowed to eat in front of their computers but must consume food in the central kitchen/reception area. It is a story of increased landlord and tenant awareness of the environment and health issues which is being played out in cities across Europe as sustainability and wellbeing norms are taken to a new level.
NUMBER FOUR OFFICE HUB
WTC Utrecht’s location adjacent to the city’s main station – the country’s largest rail hub – certainly adds to its sustainable profile. It is also at the heart of what is gradually becoming a fully fledged CBD. With 2.8 million m2 of office stock, Utrecht is currently the fourth largest office market in the Netherlands. However, in the next four years, a further 200,000 m2 of space will be added to the CBD, increasing the current stock in that area to a level just shy of 1 million m2 by 2022. In the three other big Dutch cities – Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam – office stock is continuing to decline sharply, the adviser said. ‘For years Utrecht has had a shortage of high-quality offices in the train station area,’ noted Christian Taphoorn, associate director at Savills Utrecht. ‘With new high-quality supply coming onto the occupier and investment market, Savills sees this as a progressing market.’
Whilst quality office stock has risen in Utrecht in recent years, vacancy rates have shown an opposite trend and are declining steadily as outdated stock is transformed into residential. In Utrecht’s CBD the vacancy rate is currently 3%. In comparable prime areas of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague the average vacancy rate is 10.1%, 14.9% and 7.2% respectively.
Utrecht office rents are lower than in Amsterdam, but the office investment market is showing rising prices and hence falling (gross) prime yields. In less than two years, yields have fallen by almost two percentage points to the present level of 5% thanks to rising interest from international investors. Up until 2015, the average yearly inflow of foreign capital was around €62 mln, but in 2016 alone, this volume had increased to €415 mln – or 70% of total investment volume.
BREEAMING WITH CONFIDENCE
It’s quite a mouthful, so no wonder they use ‘BREEAM’ for short. The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method measures the sustainable value of a building by assessing several factors such as energy, land use and ecology, water, health and wellbeing, pollution, transport, materials, waste and management.
BREEAM is by no means the only recognised system for the property industry but is probably the best known. There are national BREEAM schemes and while there are differences between countries, they are comparable because there is a core technical standard that is followed. The UK-based Building Research Establishment (BRE) devised BREEAM and it is chosen by many property owners in different countries as the benchmark. Ratings start from ‘unclassified’ and ‘acceptable’ all the way to ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’.
Using greenbooklive. com, it is possible to search out buildings that have a top rating. In order to qualify as ‘outstanding’, a building needs to achieve a score of at least 85%, and a score over 90%-plus will certainly achieve the bragging rights. Quite a lot of pages are actually turned when one searches for ‘outstanding’ BREEAM-rated assets, but then again, the National Building Specification (NBS), an organisation for the UK construction industry, says less than 1% of new non-domestic buildings in the UK achieve the highest ranking so it is not that common.
PropertyEU searched all the buildings ranked ‘outstanding’ and sought out the very highest with a score of at least 95%. Almost all of these are located in the UK. Bloomberg’s swanky new 102,000 m2 HQ in London (pictured above) next to Cannon Street is the best. Dubbed the world’s highest BREEAM-rated major office building by BREEAM itself, it was completed last year and has a 98.5% rating. Outside of the UK, one of the very highest rated buildings is Lidl’s distribution centre in Oosterhout, the Netherlands, with 95.26% – no doubt elevated by its aim to be 100% energy-neutral.
In Central & Eastern Europe, AFI Europe’s V. Offices in Krakow is the best with a 90.5% rating. Krakow has one of the worst pollution problems of European cities because smog from coal-based plants gets trapped between mountains in a low wind area. To mitigate the situation, AFI decided not to connect to the local heat network but provide its own cleaner solution. The new build was topped off in May, and tenants can take up space from the end of the year. Other properties with a 95%-plus rating include Deka’s King Place in London, which is home to the Guardian newspaper, 1 Angel Square occupied by The Co-operative Group in Manchester, Western Power Distribution Depot in Spilsby close to Lincoln, which has a 100% rating, Sustainable Student Village at Bradford University, and Five Pancras Square at King’s Cross in London.