The Brussels office market (including the periphery) experienced its worst year for 15 years in 2015, with a take-up of only 300,000 m² recorded over the year. In 2015, the airport zone diverted more than 15% of activity, compared with only 7% in the preceding year. In total, nearly 45,000 m² were taken into occupation in the airport district (excluding those tenants who renegotiated their leases). This zone therefore accounts for 15% of the annual take-up but only 8% of the Brussels office property stock, so the market here is very dynamic.
Several aspects contribute to this upsurge of interest in the airport zone, which has seen success in a struggling market.
The accessibility of the zone, which is tending to increase over time. Apart from the locality of the zone and its accessibility by road, the area around the airport has benefited from an improvement in access by public transport. After the Diabolo line came into service, and with the strengthened links between the airport and Mechelen, Antwerp, Leuven and Brussels, the forthcoming opening of the Schuman-Josaphat It will link the airport to the European district in only 15 minutes, with stops at Zaventem, Diegem and Haren.
The availability of quality office space. Until very recently, the airport zone was one of the only areas in Brussels which still offered recent and efficient office premises such as the Lighthouse, the Corporate Village or the Airport Plaza, developed a little under ten years ago. The occupants, increasingly on the look out for these kinds of premises, made no mistake. Some big names have opted to move into these buildings in the past few years, including Levi Strauss, Samsung, Dimension Data, Estée Lauder, ING and DS Smith, and, very recently, IMS and Continental. Others have confirmed their intention of remaining in the district; Sony, for example, has renewed its lease in the Corporate Village. Finally, the intention of Deloitte and KPMG to locate at the airport, in the Gateway and PassPort developments respectively (both currently under construction) confirms the attractiveness of this zone for enterprise.
Competitive price levels Compared with the CBD or even the adjacent Decentralised North East quarter, the airport zone enjoys much more attractive price levels, mainly due to the low taxes levied on office premises in Flanders. Thus with a higher prime rent than in the Decentralised quarter, €165/m² per annum compared with €145/m², the total occupation cost of office premises is still 10% lower thanks to lower taxes, with greater accessibility.
While the airport zone is still flirting with a vacancy rate of around 18% (among the highest in the Brussels market), the best quality and best located office premises are now almost full. This is the case for the Corporate Village, the Lighthouse and the Airport Plaza, inter alia.
Therefore, there is a real dichotomy in the airport zone between these offices and the rest of the stock, which suffers more from a lack of visibility and accessibility, and from greater obsolescence. For these office spaces the future seems bleaker, despite often offering give-away prices, especially since there are almost no opportunities to redevelop these premises.
Does this mean that we should halt any development until these premises find takers? Definitely not, concludes Maximilien Mandart, Associate Partner in the Lettings department at Cushman & Wakefield, responsible for the Brussels periphery, because there is a real demand for tertiary space in the airport zone. This focuses on ideally located premises with the highest standards in terms of working space efficiency and environmental effectiveness. This demand is likely to grow still further in the coming years, as a result of increasing accessibility, the imminent arrival of the new NATO headquarters and the future redevelopment of the existing site. Thus there is scope for developing new office premises along the main communications routes, in buildings of between 7,000 and 15,000 m² and meeting high environmental criteria.