• Fri
  • Nov 21, 2014
  • Updated: 6:48pm

London's Shard skyscraper almost empty one year after opening

Landmark Shard ticks all the boxes when it comes to design and stunning views - but it's almost empty a year after it opened

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 4:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 4:40am

Soaring 310 metres and with 72 storeys, everything about the Shard is dramatic.

The London Bridge skyscraper - the capital's newest landmark, with views stretching 70 kilometres and which is visible to drivers crawling around the M25 orbital motorway - bills itself as "Europe's first vertical city".

It is the highest building in western Europe and, together with the Place, a 17-storey "baby Shard" next door, it cost its Qatari backers £1.5 billion (HK$19 billion).

The skyscraper's observation deck can be hired out for corporate events at £30,000 an hour and tables at its three restaurants are reported to be in huge demand.

But despite the stunning design by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and glamorous marketing, almost a year after its opening the building remains practically a shell.

Ten apartments, designed to pull in some of the richest people on the planet with price tags of £30 million to £50 million, lie empty - still for sale just as the so-called ultra-prime London property market seems to be slowing.

The five-star Shangri-La hotel, scheduled to launch last summer, has yet to open, while the Shard's 25-floor office complex has just one tenant, on the 14th floor - Duff & Phelps, an insolvency practice that few outside the business world have heard of.

Over the coming days the tower will try to persuade the property industry it is finally more than just a nice view. Two new tenants are expected to be unveiled: the Qatari-based media group Al Jazeera and a US private hospital group, Hospital Corporation of America.

It will mean the Shard will be home to one of the largest private medical clinics in Britain, stretched over three floors with 100 consulting rooms, a diagnostics centre and a 24-hour surgery.

Three further tenants are expected to be unveiled soon, with another Qatari-owned business, South Hook Liquefied Natural Gas Company, among the names being gossiped about.

But even with all the support coming from Doha for one of the country's highest-profile investments, the office complex will only be a third full, which many believe was entirely predictable.

The Heron Tower, the 46-storey, 230-metre skyscraper in the City - London's nearby business district - opened in March 2011 with two tenants - the US law firm McDermott Will & Emery and Landmark, a serviced-office company.

Progress has been sluggish. Nearly three years since launch its owners are not confident enough to say exactly how much space is taken. They will only say the building is "more than two-thirds let".

The property group Cushman & Wakefield says 11 million sq ft of central London office space was snapped up last year, a big increase on the 2012 figure of 7.3 million sq ft.

The media and technology sector dominated activity, accounting for 36 per cent of all letting volumes last year.

But part of the challenge for the Shard is to convince businesses that London Bridge Quarter, the 2 million sq ft regeneration project on the South Bank, will be a desirable area in which to be based.

Many City figures remain sniffy about moving their businesses there, while property industry sources say the ultra-wealthy Qatari owners have been unwilling to drop their asking prices in order to attract tenants.

Transport for London, which runs the capital's trains and buses, originally committed itself to relocating to swanky new space in the Shard, but eventually pulled out, with the consent of the building's owners.

It is now in cheaper accommodation elsewhere in south London.

Still, there are suggestions the perception of working around London Bridge may be changing.

News UK, the publisher of The Times and The Sun, has signed up to move into the Place.

And, undeterred by the vast empty floors inside the skyscraper, another tower is now planned.

Piano has been commissioned to design a 27-storey residential building, complete with a roof garden, in the shadow of the Shard.


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