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LONDON-Office rents in Kent have grown significantly, reflecting the massive state investment in the county’s road and rail infrastructure. Town centre deals in Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells have broken the £20 ($28.20) per sf barrier this year, but the county’s three major business parks dominate the market.

According to a new report from Cluttons, Kent County Council and Locate in Kent, Kent’s three business parks–Crossways at Dartford, King’s Hill at Maidstone and Chatham Maritime–accounted for 80% of all office take-up in the past year. Significant deals include Jupiter International taking a 35,000 sf build-to-suit building at King’s Hill and Regus taking 50,00 sf at Crossways.

But, according to Cluttons Partner Mark Linington, there are signs of a move back into the town centres. With the BBC paying over £20 per sf ($28.20) per sf in Tunbridge Wells and Berkeley Homes paying the same–albeit for a sale & leaseback–in Sevenoaks, Linington said rents are now approaching levels where new development is viable. Maidstone town centre is seeing its first speculative building in a decade.

In the industrial sector, sites close to the M2, M20 and M25 motorways in West kent are attracting interest from distribution operators. For example, the retailer John Lewis paid £7.15 ($10) per sf for a 60,000 sf building at Crossways, Dartford. ‘It is the logistics sector that is driving rental increases,’ says Linington.

As in the rest of the UK, retail property has been the poorest performer with rents static at best. But Linington said the impact of Bluewater–Europe’s biggest shopping mall, which opened two years ago in Dartford–had been smaller than many had feared. The Hempstead Valley shopping centre near Chatham and the lakeside Mall across the Thames in Essex had been the biggest losers.

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