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19 March, 2019 - 10:31 By Tony Quested

Huawei pays £37.5m for 550-acre Cambridge site to develop R & D superhub

Patrick Stanton of Bidwells

China ICT giant Huawei has underlined its commitment to the technology sweet spot of Cambridge and the UK in general by paying £37.5 million for the 550-acre former Spicers site at Sawston.

The deal is in stark defiance to moves by the US in particular to stifle Huawei’s global growth.

The deal was actually signed off last year, Business Weekly understands, and as such was the largest Cambridge industrial deal of 2018.

Huawei has maintained a dignified silence despite having its vital parts trapped in a UK-US political mincer. Bidwells refused to name the buyer but Business Weekly sources confirmed that Huawei was indeed the purchaser and had major plans for the site.

The company is crucial to delivery of efficient 5G to the UK and Arm CEO Simon Segars was moved to publicly back Huwaei last month in an impassioned defence of its technology.

It is understood that Huawei will initially build a research and development facility at the former Spicers site which benefits from approximately 100 acres of brownfield land ripe for considerable development of further commercial space. Clearly there is potential for Huawei to develop a hub and spoke UK headquarters site spanning a range of technological developments.

Cambridge property specialist Bidwells acted for US biotechnology firm Northwest Biotherapeutics (NWBio) in the off-market deal.  

As part of the transaction NWBio entered into lease back agreement for 87,000 sq ft of space at £500,000 per annum for 20 years. 

That particular facility will be used for further development and manufacturing of the company’s DCVax drug which is designed to reinvigorate and educate the immune system to counter solid tumours. 

Bidwells had recently let the main warehouse building of 275,000 sq ft on the estate for £1.1 million a year which also formed part of the sale. NWBio was able to retain 17 acres of the site which has significant residential possibilities in the short/medium term. 

Bidwells head of industrial and logistics, Patrick Stanton, said: “This complex and significant deal represents a true one-off for Cambridge. The opportunity to purchase a site of this magnitude so close to Cambridge with the development potential it offered is incredibly rare. 

“Having sold the site to NWBio in 2014 we were delighted to act on their behalf for the sale which represents a significant value gain over the four years of ownership.”

Bidwells’ latest industrial sector research, just released, confirms that supply for warehouse and industrial stock in the area has fallen dramatically over the last 2/3 years to only 360,000 sq ft – a staggering four per cent vacancy rate. This has driven headline rents to record levels with prime Cambridge rents rising to £13.50 per square foot.

Bidwells’ Spring research found that despite new industrial space being completed last year in Cambridge, schemes such as Buckingway Business Park, Swavesey and Enterprise @ Cambridge Research Park, the new stock has not been sufficient to impact on availability rates.

Stanton added: “The Sawston site had the capability of supplying approximately 800,000 sq ft of much needed commercial space for the market. With the site being purchased by an owner occupier this space is likely never to come forward as they will hold for their own development.
“Requirements are up on the previous year as companies in the mid-tech industry take a growing representation in the industrial floorspace in the city. This in turn is forcing warehouse/industrial occupiers to consider alternative locations as rents in Cambridge are expected to move higher on the back of this growing sector.” 

The specialist logistics and industrial team at Bidwells advised on some of 2018’s other most significant ‘big-box’ transactions across the region cementing its reputation as the ‘go-to’ agent in East Anglia for logistics and industrial agency, investment and development advice.  

Highlights included: more than 1.4m sq ft of pre-lets/sales at Gateway, Peterborough with deals to E-Leather (230,000 sq ft), Coloplast (130,000 sq ft), DSV(300,000 sq ft) and Lidl (550,000 sq ft) with a combined development value of over £80m; the off-market purchase of 511, Coldhams Lane, Cambridge for £17.3m and the purchase of 130,000 sq ft warehouse in Thetford for £4.6m.

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