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Is grungy Camden set to be the new Silicon Roundabout for creatives?

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London Stock Exchange-listed Market Tech has just acquired the Utopia Village office scheme for £44m, signalling further refurbishment plans for Camden Market and its surrounding areas.

The company primarily intends to use the complex to cater to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, providing a co-working environment for businesses to rent accommodation with access to Market Tech’s “e-commerce and business infrastructure”. 

Market Tech has been upfront in its main goal – hoping to lure startups across new technology fashion, design and other creative industries to the area in Chalcot Road. News that may well buoy the company’s ambitions are recent figures from Boris Johnson’s promotional company London & Partners. This research found that investments in London’s technology industry hit a record high for Q1 2015, with a 66 per cent year-on-year growth and firms receiving more than $682m worth of VC funding for Q1.

This inevitably brings to mind Silicon Roundabout in east London, and its impressive development with Shoreditch, Aldgate and the like, transforming into renowned tech hubs, and now boasting tenants such as Unilever. Presumably, Market Tech hopes to slowly but surely develop a creative hub that will be the first port of call for budding entrepreneurs in the space, much like Old Street is the go-to place for media and e-commerce, or Canary Wharf for flourishing fintech companies in the capital.

The Camden Market area has obviously already established impressive name recognition and brand value as a tourist hotspot – the raft of stalls selling everything from clothes to antiques to fast-food, draw in 100,000 visitors each weekend as the fourth-most popular visitor attraction in London. It will be interesting though, to see to which creative startups seek to make the move into such a highly-sought after area, and which consider the option both viable and sustainable. 

We have already seen the soaring property tech bubble in London’s east end causing problems for small businesses, with rents nearly doubling over the last five years. While numerous headlines heralded Google’s acquisition of its seven-storey Google Campus near Old Street roundabout back in 2012, more recent news has noted the difficulties for smaller companies – with media agency Gorkana and communications agency Splendid two of the companies admitting to feeling the pressure of rising rent. It remains to be seen how diverse the crop of businesses which look to move to Utopia Village will be, with its pricey positioning by Primrose Hill and the market entrance itself.

Despite this, Market Tech is evidently focused on transforming Camden, both in enhancing its ability to attract upcoming entrepreneurs, and delivering an “all-embracing retail, e-commerce, leisure and cultural hub”. It’s worth looking at the other recent movements Market Tech has made – such as appointing Mace, the firm behind The Shard, to deliver the first phase of the Camden Lock Village and Hawley Wharf development, to see that there’s a definitive plan shaping up. 

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Teddy Sagi, the Israeli billionaire owner of Market Tech, has reportedly invested hundreds of millions of pounds securing an 11-acre real estate portfolio across Camden. He now owns Stables Market, Buck Street Market, Camden Lock Market and Hawley Wharf. Camden Lock proclaims itself to be the “creative and cultural heart of London”, and it seems Sagi wants to expand this moniker to apply across his breadth of acquisitions.

Charles Butler, Market Tech’s CEO, said: “We are establishing the foundations to support our strategy to reinvigorate Camden Market and its surrounding area – bringing the markets to a wider global audience and creating an environment where bright new entrepreneurs can grow innovative businesses.”

It’s not the first time Utopia Village has been subject to planned rework. Back in 2013, residents along with business owners in Primrose Hill battled against efforts by developers to transform Utopia Village into luxury housing. At the time, the council refused planning permission on 15 separate grounds, stating that the residential development would lead to “traffic congestion”, and “unacceptable additional pressures on existing community facilities in the area”.

The planning row was extensive, and a number of high-profile local residents, including Mary Portas and Alan Bennett, joined the debate – suggesting the loss of businesses could be detrimental to the high street. Sagi’s latest purchase however, suggests that fate has been avoided, though residents will be just one of many groups of onlookers awaiting the development with interest.

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