Soapworks factory development in Bristol acquired in £215 million deal

Soapworks sq

Bristol’s iconic Soapworks factory has been acquired for £215 million, paving the way for a major redevelopment.

Barings, one of the world’s largest diversified real estate investment managers, will develop the site with developer Socius, which secured planning permission for the mixed-use site.

Soapworks will create a new district in Bristol city centre five minutes’ walk from both Temple Meads Station, Bristol’s main train station, and the new £500 million University of Bristol campus.

Set within a new public square, it will comprise two new buildings alongside the restoration of a Grade II listed former soap factory that dates back to the 1860s.

The scheme has planning consent for 154,000 sq ft of flexible office accommodation which will target a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating and aim for net-zero carbon in operation, as well as 243 build-to-rent (BTR) apartments, 20 per cent of which will be for affordable tenures, and 18,800 sq ft of flexible ground floor retail, hospitality and leisure space.

The workspace will be divided into 18,000 sq ft in the existing Grade II-listed building and 136,000 sq ft in a new building which will aim to address the shortage of modern, sustainable workspace in the city.

Bristol has a high graduate retention rate of 51 per cent and current office availability of just 106,000 sq ft, less than half the five-year average.

The proposed development is expected to deliver up to £200 million of social value, an additional 513 new net additional full-time equivalent jobs within the Bristol economy, and £35 million per year of gross value-added contributed to the Bristol economy relating to new employment uses.

Barings will deliver the development in partnership with Socius, which conceived the scheme, secured planning consent, and will be retained as development manager.

Darren Hutchinson, managing director and head of UK real estate transactions at Barings, said: “Already a landmark in Bristol, Soapworks will be an iconic place to live and work in the city, with new and much-needed homes, Grade A office space, and a revamped public realm and vibrant ground floor retail and hospitality.

“Working alongside Socius, we’re working to retain as much of the original buildings as possible, and thus the embodied carbon, so that we can create a first-class destination with as little environmental impact as possible.

“Due to the quality of this space, it will not only be a landmark within Bristol but be an example of excellent place-making across the UK.”

Ben Pile, head of European residential investing and asset management at Barings said: “Soapworks will offer a very high standard of living and working space, making it a hugely attractive asset as we look to continue to acquire more developments in our preferred sectors.

“Given Bristol’s desirability as a place to live, its sizeable student population and its undersupply of top-quality office accommodation, we anticipate demand for both homes with high levels of amenity and best in class net-zero workplaces continuing to grow significantly.

“Soapworks is well-positioned to become one of the city’s most desirable districts. We look forward to working with our new partners at Socius to develop this truly first-class destination.”

Barry Jessup, managing director at Socius, said: “This is a vital step forward for Soapworks and we’re looking forward now to pressing ahead with the project and getting on-site in the next few months.

“Barings share our long-term vision for a new vibrant district in the heart of Bristol which blends much-needed flexible and sustainable workspace with new homes and an eclectic retail and dining mix.

“We look forward to working together with the council and local community to delivering this exciting project in what is one of the UK’s most dynamic and fast-growing cities.”

Colliers and Ashurst acted for Barings, and Savills and DWF acted for the vendor.

The Soapworks building dates back to the 1860s and was originally the home of Christopher Thomas & Brothers, manufacturers of soap and candles, and subsequently furniture company, Gardiner Haskins.

The retailer, which was founded in Bristol in 1825, relocated to a smaller showroom adjacent to its previous premises in 2018. It continues to trade from its iconic Brunel Rooms building on Straight Street in Broad Plain.