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Kent retail property market latest

Kent has not been immune to the national downturn in the retail market, Mark Coxon,
 Director - Business Space, M25 East, at Caxtons, the county’s leading commercial property experts, examines what’s driving the market.

Overall, prime high street rents in the county have dipped -2.7% losing some of the gains made in 2016 and 2017. Towns at the upper end of the rental scale have struggled more as affordability dampens demand.

However, Kent also illustrates many success stories as town centres are reinvented in the face of this period of structural change. The first phase of Legal & General's £53m St James development in Dover, providing 14,586m2 (157,000 ft2) of new leisure and retail space opened in the spring, while the Spirit of Sittingbourne regeneration reached its first milestone this year. The impact of such schemes on rents inevitably takes time, particularly given the challenging backdrop.

The potential impact is exemplified in Ashford where the vacancy rate has fallen following the borough council's purchase and management of the now near full Park Mall shopping centre, combined with activity across the wider town.

High streets are evolving their role with a greater mix of occupiers, aided by rental adjustments. In January
consent was awarded for a further Escape Room in Folkestone, while elsewhere, smaller format gyms have taken vacant space. Such occupiers, combined with a continued upturn in independent retailers and coffee shops, are having a positive impact on occupancy.

The latest Local Data Company research, undertaken for Property Week, shows Kent has seen a sharp improvement in occupancy levels (August 2018) when compared with the national average.

Average High Street vacancy rate
              2018        2017
Kent     7.80%      8.90%
UK         11.30%      11.00%
Source: Local Data Company, August 2018

The county saw the two largest retail transactions in the south east in 2018 - Royal Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells sold to British Land and the Whitefriars Quarter sold to Canterbury City Council.

These deals contributed to Kent seeing 30% of all retail investment transactions in the south east in 2018 (Source: Caxtons).

Both transactions underline the potential opportunities seen in town centres where investors and local authorities work together to deliver a holistic long-term strategy for vitality underpinned by a robust and diverse economic base.