Spotlight on Hemel Hempstead: The evolving landscape at Maylands

Pictured: Former Lucas Site in Hemel Hempstead

Following the recent launch of Prologis Park, Hemel Hempstead and our client’s successful application to extend the park, BF’s Trevor Church takes a look how the usage of this land has come full circle.

From the 1960’s until the Millennium the southern end of Maylands Avenue was dominated by Lucas Industries but after a company takeover, Brasier Freeth (then Freeth Melhuish) was instructed to advise on their relocation and the sale of their 23-acre site on Maylands Avenue. Lucas Varity (aka TRW and Goodrich), duly relocated to a new facility in Pitstone and we sold their site to Aviva Investors (Norwich Union) together with their renowned Development Manager, Stanhope for circa £30m.

Stanhope’s vision was to replicate their highly successful Chiswick Park Office Development and planning was gained for 600,000 sq. ft. of offices in six buildings plus a large gym. There was even an option in place to develop the sports field to the rear for more offices. Whilst only a single 100,000 sq. ft. office building and Esporta Gym were constructed, Peoplebuilding Hemel was born.

The Peoplebuilding name was devised by the marketing agency engaged by Stanhope to encourage companies to think that a high-quality environment would enable their staff to achieve more from working in the positive environment they were about to create. Whilst they had successfully used the slogan ‘Enjoy Work’ at Chiswick Park the same success could not be emulated in Hemel and through the early 2000’s as the local market for offices slowly fell away, the building remained largely empty until the notorious day of 5th December 2005 when Hemel Hempstead was home to the largest explosion seen in the UK since WW2. The explosion at the Buncefield oil depot critically damaged the office buildings of Northgate and 3Comm, so by the end of February 2006, Peoplebuilding was virtually full.

Dacorum Borough Council was still keen to see the remainder of the office park developed but through the recessionary times of 2007 – 2013 demand for offices remained low and office development was uneconomic. There was a huge supply of vacant offices through consolidation, closures and takeovers, peaking at around 700,000 sq. ft. equating to at least six years supply.

In 2013 Aviva were convinced by specialist retail developer, Trilogy, that the site would make an excellent retail park and jointly pursued a change of use, eventually gaining consent for a retail park over the remainder of the site. Demand for offices remained stubbornly soft but there was some stirring in the warehouse sector fuelled by the online shopping boom.

We have all seen the travails encountered by the retail sector over recent years and whilst Aviva/Trilogy managed to secure lettings to Aldi and drive throughs for Costa and McDonalds located in front of the office building and gym the larger Phase 2 of the retail scheme failed to generate sufficient interest and the plans stalled, delaying the start date by a year or so.

In the Autumn of 2018, Brasier Freeth appreciating the flourishing market for industrial property approached Aviva on behalf of Prologis, a worldwide developer of industrial property who had been successfully developing Prologis Park on the former Lucas and Kodak sports fields to the rear of Peoplebuilding. A deal was agreed and Prologis completed the purchase of the 11.5-acre site in January 2019.

The plan is to access the site from Blossom Way the new estate road of Prologis Park instead of from Maylands Avenue, which is widely recognised as being close to capacity and to extend the Park, already home to Vitabiotics and Hermes amongst others, to develop a single large warehouse building of around 220,000 sq. ft.

So here we are 20 years on and the site will soon be back to its original industrial use and the southern end of Maylands Avenue will once again be dominated by a single large building.