Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Astorbush is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Astorbush is a long-established family-run property
management business founded in 1984 by Roger
Metcalfe. The company is now managed by Directors
Andrew Waller and Jonathan Spence, who are local landlords
providing professional office and retail space to local tenants in
Pontefract, a historic market town in West Yorkshire. Jonathan
Spence tells
The Parliamentary Review
how their versatile
approach and resilient mindset have allowed them to remain
successful, despite an unstable economic climate.
We battled through major recessions in the early 1990s and in 2008. We attribute
much of our continued success to having the flexibility to adapt to ever-changing
market conditions, our strength in demonstrating our core values of honesty and
trustworthiness and our ability to build strong and long-term relationships with
like-minded tenants. Working with and building a strong relationship with the local
authority remain critical in reviving our town centre and supporting the growth of
our business enterprise.
Expert, experienced and dependable
Over the past 20 years, we have seen the demise of traditional high streets and
town centre-based offices, as we continually compete with out-of-town shopping,
business enterprise zones, the internet and the ease with which companies can
now conduct business remotely. Pontefract has been no exception, blighted by
empty, boarded-up shops and offices as traders have gone out of business, and
»Directors: Andrew Waller and
Jonathan Spence
»Established in 1984
»Based in Pontefract, West
»Services: Family-run property
»No. of employees: 4
Directors Andrew Waller and
Jonathan Spence
Head office,
Churchill House
Highlighting best practice
we are seeing companies move out
of the town centre to new business
parks located close to regional
In an extremely difficult climate, we
needed a new strategy to breathe life
back into our existing town centre-
based retail and office properties and
to compete with the growing trend
of home-based working, business and
trading. In response, over the past six
years, we took a two-step approach.
Firstly, we focused on continuous
improvement of our existing property
portfolio, working with the local
authority and other bodies to invest
and use available grants to refurbish
our properties to improve the street
scene and attract new businesses to
the town centre. Secondly, we offered
creative lease terms to attract start-ups
and smaller local businesses.
We constantly face significant
challenges that impact our ability to
operate in a flexible way to remain
competitive in the marketplace, as
well as to revive our buildings within
the town centre. The introduction
of small business rates relief has
positively improved our ability to lease
office and retail space to new and
existing tenants, but we constantly
face an uphill challenge: attracting key
businesses is difficult when enterprise
zones are allocated 100 per cent
business rates relief of up to £275,000
over five years.
Empty property rates also impact
our ability to maintain a positive
revenue stream, and rateable charges
are a double blow when you have
space that is unoccupied and not
generating revenue. We have to look
at innovative incentives to develop our
town centres and attract businesses to
them, working with the government
and the local authority to explore
creative initiatives to develop town
centre enterprise zones. Through this
approach, we could see the associated
benefits that out-of-town zones enjoy;
with appropriate funding, we could
improve the quality of office space
and compete with modern business
Attracting larger businesses back into
our town centres would raise footfall
and create demand for additional
shops and services. With ever-
increasing utility, regulatory and other
external costs, making our real estate
work harder for less requires constant
management and understanding. We
have already introduced cost-cutting
measures and spending controls,
and we are now starting to look at
selective investment opportunities
for the future. We are passionate
about regenerating the high street to
improve the overall economic climate
within our local area.
Bureaucratic challenges
We are constantly faced with
bureaucratic local authority planning
and building control policies and
regulations, making projects
unaffordable and undeliverable within
the timescales required to meet market
demands. A lack of pragmatic building
Multi-occupancy offices
We constantly
control and regulation is often counter-
productive, and local authorities need
to work more closely with us.
One of our current town developments
remains in the starting blocks, as
we already know that we will be
hampered by significant planning
costs for change of use, as well as
development restrictions and controls
within the conservation area of
the town and in proximity of listed
buildings. Local Planning Authorities
need to understand our challenges,
work with us, to compromise and relax
specific conditions in order to achieve
pragmatic solutions. Local Planning
Authorities to accept and apply the
offers of practical guidance from the
local government Ombudsman when
planners make and record decisions,
to stimulate community confidence in
the planning process. We are a small
company in relative terms in the real
estate market, so our ability to raise
significant capital investment is limited,
and we often rely upon the availability
of local grants to complement our
Despite growing national
acknowledgement that investment is
needed to revitalise and reinvent the
high street, there is a lack of available
grants. Where grants are available, we
do not have the dedicated resources
and funds to prepare the supporting
materials required to obtain them. Our
latest grant award represented only
4.5 per cent of the overall investment
cost that was required to bring one
of our buildings back to life in the
We need government funding to
reach local businesses by reducing red
tape, enabling funding transition to
be carried out more easily and quickly
while ensuring that businesses are held
accountable for their own investment
initiatives. Local businesses understand
what is required to reinvent the
Our future
Our primary strategy remains
straightforward: to maintain a continual
refurbishment programme and to
redevelop buildings that currently have
a negative impact and reintroduce
them back onto the high street to
attract and generate newbusiness.
Our secondary aim is to diversify and
split the company into two areas,
usingour existing portfolio and revenue
stream to invest in new development
projects for lease and to buy.
To achieve this, we need to work
closely with our existing tenants and
understand the future needs of our
marketplace while establishing and
maintaining long-term relationships
with key individuals within the local
authority and business groups.
The government and local authorities
really need to work at the grassroots
level and understand the pressures and
challenges that small businesses like
us face on a daily basis. There has to
be a real game-changer in the way in
which local authorities work with local
businesses. Working in partnership, we
will succeed.
Local Planning
need to
our challenges
Renovated building
using THI Grant

This article was sponsored by Astorbush. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.