Market Insight

Oxford on track for booming good year

As we head towards the second quarter of 2024, there is a real sense of anticipation about the fortunes of the Oxford commercial property market. The question is, can supply keep up with demand, as Mike Watson, Oxford Agency Partner, explores.
March 28, 2024
Oxford | Town Centre | Commercial Property
Whilst officially a ‘city’ Oxford is, to the uninitiated, a pretty market town nestled between the Cotswolds and the Chiltern Hills. Since time immemorial, Oxford has revolved around its prestigious university and colleges, and its history is laid bare for all to see in the buildings that surround you.

Yet, despite the undeniably historical feel to its town centre, Oxford possesses a real sense of innovation and excitement. A contradiction of terms you might think, but no.

Oxford is not just a place of ideas, creativity, collaboration and innovation, it is the place for innovation, making it a ‘location in the minds of global innovators and investors,’ and home to several world-leading business and science parks.

Backed by the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP), the organisation responsible for championing Oxfordshire’s economic potential, the city benefits significantly from a strategic approach to international inward investment.

This has seen Oxfordshire welcome multi-nationals including Moderna, who are building a 100,000 sq ft facility for its covid drug production at Harwell Science & Innovation Campus, to name but one.

Yet, Oxford is not reliant on inward investment. Many of the businesses based here are home grown thanks to the success of the university’s spinout programme.

Ranked the leading academic institution in the UK for generating spinout companies, 47% of which based themselves in Oxfordshire between 2011 and 2022, you start to get a sense of why there is an air of excitement here.

As we head towards the second quarter of 2024, there is a real sense of anticipation about the fortunes of the Oxford commercial property market. The question is, can supply keep up with demand, as Mike Watson, Oxford Agency Partner, explores.

Over the last four years, Oxford, like many towns and cities, has been hit by the perfect property storm.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects significantly impacted the retail market here, which just two years prior, had seen the delivery of Westgate Oxford which, in effect, doubled the city’s retail offer almost overnight and forced a seismic change to Oxford’s retail pitches.

But retail fortunes are turning and, with half a million more visitors between September and November 2023 compared with the same period in 2022, a sense of vibrancy and optimism has returned to Oxford city centre. Afterall, it was only 10 years ago that Oxford was widely thought to be the most sought-after retail location in the UK.

Entrepreneurship has supported Oxford retail market

Whereas nationally the high street has struggled, what we have seen in Oxford is the development of an entrepreneurial retail offer to meet the needs of local people who, at the end of 2023, made up nearly half (47%) of the city centre’s visitors.

Much of this is thanks to the coming together of city centre colleges around the High Street and Broad Street to form a working group called The Oxford Market Quarter to curate occupier types to meet the needs of their ‘quarter’ with more independent retailers.

As a result, you won’t see many big retail chains here and there is a widespread feeling that this has helped to deliver a ‘vibey’ retail offer for visitors – somewhere unique, offering a sense of place and purpose, without the retail homogeneity that so many UK towns and cities suffer.

Alex Spain, Bursar and Fellow at Lincoln College Oxford, a key stakeholder in Oxford’s retail landscape, added: “The centre of Oxford is a beguiling mix of independent, sometimes surprising, specialty businesses and boasts a wide variety of food and drink vendors which add further character to its historic streets.”

Whilst headline rents for city centre retail have been subdued, as has been the case nationally, this appears to have stabilised recently.

As long as retail occupiers here have a bit of creativity in their offer and understand that landlords have their own commercial pressures to manage, we are cautiously optimistic for the year ahead.

“The centre of Oxford is a beguiling mix of independent, sometimes surprising, specialty businesses and boasts a wide variety of food and drink vendors which add further character to its historic streets.”

Alex Spain, Bursar and Fellow at Lincoln College Oxford.

From gown to town: Lab space demand continues as spinouts abound

Oxford continues to see good demand for offices and laboratories, reflecting the diversity of the city’s science and tech cluster.

In 2023, Oxford University celebrated its 300th company creation, supported by its research commercialisation arm Oxford University Innovation (OUI), with 97 of its spinouts staying in or close to Oxford – the highest concentration anywhere in the UK.

Mairi Gibbs, Interim Chief Executive Officer at OUI, added: “Together with the University, our companies and our partners in the Oxford ecosystem, OUI is helping support £3.4bn of economic impact per annum* with the combined research and innovation activity associated with the University supporting the creation of over 28,000 jobs.”

Last year, life sciences accounted for around two thirds of overall office and lab take-up in Oxford and with a healthy pipeline of university spinouts seeking >10,000 sq ft of office / lab space, we will continue to see a fall in vacancy rates throughout 2024.

But will there be enough office and lab space available here to support demand from the life sciences and biotech sectors?

A lot of the growth in the Oxford office market has been driven by the lack of supply of Grade A office / laboratory stock, which has always been underserved here.

Given last year’s take up figures, which were around 420,000 st ft of lab space, there remains approximately one year’s worth of supply left.

This is driving rents up from the early £30.00s psf for traditional office space, to the mid-£60.00s psf – rising as high as £85.00 psf for lab space on the likes of Oxford ARC.

The lack of availability of Grade A and super prime space could push rents on even further this year. This represents an opportunity for landlords of Grade B stock to take up the slack and deliver more newly refurbished stock to market.

* London Economics – Oxford Economic Impact report, 2021.

What is on the Oxford office market

Whilst there are several office / lab building options on the market, actual availability to meet client needs is sparse, and there is very little in central Oxford with most supply situated on out of town business parks, including:

Begbroke Science Park

From Oxford University departments and spinouts to high-technology companies, Begbroke Science Park provides a range of flexible office and lab spaces to meet the needs of growing businesses.

Harwell Science & Innovation Campus

Harwell Campus is the UK’s leading science and innovation campus, boasting a broad range of cutting-edge office, manufacturing, R&D and lab space at Zeta Building, Tech Foundry, Quad 2, Quad 1 and more.

Howbery Business Park

Howbery Business Park offers a wide range of accommodation for small to medium sized businesses on flexible terms and competitive rates, with planning for build to suit opportunities with an 18 month – 24 month build programme.


Inventa is a newly completed laboratory and office building in central Oxford with 65,000 sq ft of accommodation, excellent onsite facilities and has been purpose-built for collaboration and research.

Milton Park

Home to over 250 businesses, Milton Park is an established science, business and technology park situated between Didcot and Abingdon. From innovative start-ups and university spin-outs, to unicorns and global organisations the Park grow-on space for occupiers of all sizes.

Osney Mead

The Osney Mead is a 44-acre site in an important area of Oxford just west of the city centre off the Botley Road. With funding from Legal & General Investment Management, the University is developing a state-of-the-art life science building here.

ARC Oxford (formerly Oxford Business Park)

ARC Oxford continues to deliver speculative lab space with several buildings available, including lab and office space at Building 7400, Building 4100 and Building 5510.

Oxford North

Oxford North is a new, mixed-use innovation district spanning 64 acres which will deliver one million sq ft of labs and workspaces, 480 new homes, hotel, nursery, amenities and three new public parks, targeting practical completion in Q2 2025.

Oxford Science Park

Already home to companies including Nanopore, Biotage and Oxgene, there is a development pipeline at Oxford Science Park of over 600,000 sq ft of office and lab space due to be delivered by the end of 2026. It’s the ideal home for businesses wanting to expand.

Oxford Technology Park

This 400,000 sq.ft. science and technology park, provides the next generation of office, R&D, laboratory and production space for science-based occupiers at Building One, the Innovation Quarter and a range of Hybrid Buildings that that can evolve to the ever-changing requirements of the life science and technology sector.

Development pipeline

There is a strong pipeline of development in Oxford, particularly to meet the needs of Oxford’s innovation community.

The University has formed a partnership with Legal and General to develop the infrastructure necessary to give its young spin out firms a place to scale.

Situated off the A44, Phase 1 of the £300m Begbroke Science Park will transform the site into an Innovation District, which will form part of the wider £4bn investment project, dubbed a “blueprint for future cities.”

There is also a pipeline of development coming at the Innovation Park and Clarendon in the town centre but the majority of this will not come to market Q3/4 2024 and Q2 2025. This will mean that rents will continue to harden in the meantime.

The ‘Harwell 600’ programme, which is targeting the delivery of 600,000 sq ft of speculative lab, R&D and technical space by 2025, continues to progress well with two new schemes already underway.

Zeta building will deliver 40,000 sq ft of office and lab space, and phase 1 of the Tech Foundry development is due to bring circa 140,000 sq ft of hybrid space across two buildings.

Meanwhile, Oxford ARC continues to deliver speculative lab space and is achieving rents of between £90.00 – £100.00 psf.

As Oxford University’s IMPACT Report states, “With multiple other developments in the pipeline, and job creation 140% higher than the national average, Bloomberg recently declared that “Oxford’s star is now on the ascendant”.”

We couldn’t agree more. It is an exciting time for the Oxford property market, and we are looking ahead to the rest of the year with a sense of excitement and anticipation – both with the retail property market, and offices / laboratory market in mind.

If you would like support with your office, laboratory or retail needs in and around Oxford, our Oxford-based commercial agents can help. Get in touch for more information.