04:34PM, Thursday 26 November 2020
Maidenhead suffered a blow last week after mobile giant Three UK confirmed it was to leave its town centre offices next year.
The telecommunications service – which employs about 900 people – has called Maidenhead home since 2003, but is moving to Reading for ‘an interim period’.
Three UK says it is ‘re-evaluating’ its ways of working in light of COVID-19 as it ‘explores options’ for a combined office space in the Thames Valley.
The company’s lease in Grenfell Road ends in the spring, and it plans to fully exit its ‘Star House’ office building by March 31 next year, as reported by the Advertiser last week.
Three UK’s workforce across Maidenhead and Reading will work out of the latter, which will become the interim headquarters.
Council leader Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) said he was ‘disappointed’ Three UK was leaving, but hinted the door is always open.
“They have made a fantastic contribution to the economic success of Maidenhead and have always been one of those blue-chip anchor businesses. We are very disappointed to lose them,” he said.
“It is undoubtedly a loss to the town but I am sure we will look to recover. And the door is very much open for their return. That is something I am looking to take up with them in earnest.”
Opposition councillor Geoff Hill (TBF, Oldfield) claimed the news was ‘a sad indictment of where Maidenhead is right now’’.
“This is a major company with a massive profile and a loss that Maidenhead can’t afford,” he said.
Ward councillor Gurch Singh (Lib Dem, St Mary’s) added this is ‘the wake-up call the council needs to think about the sort of town that we are building’.
But Cllr Johnson disagreed, saying Three UK has ‘not left because of the council, it is a decision with the lease’.
Mike Miller, chairman of the Maidenhead & District Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Three offices are probably quite expensive.
“If they are combining two sites then that makes sense, you can understand the commercial reason.”
The move has sparked debate about whether Maidenhead needs to be building more office blocks for a post-COVID world.
“Things are going to change a lot and companies like Three have got to think about the way they do business,” Mike added.
Cllr Hill – who sits on the planning panel and recently approved an office development at St Cloud Way – said: “When I judge a planning application, you have to judge strictly on planning terms, we are not making commercial decisions.”
He added that the office space that passed planning was ‘grade A’ and said environmental benefits and internet exchanges can still attract businesses to office buildings.
Cllr Hill said he expected older office space to make way for housing.
Cllr Johnson was also confident that a return to the office would be on the agenda.
He said: “It is probably going to be about the right kind of office space, I certainly do detect a strong desire amongst businesses to return to some form of corporate office.”
Mark Redmond, Three UK’s chief people officer, said: “When we have a decision in terms of our future long-term, then we will talk to our people about that.
“We certainly do not see any job losses. It is all about looking after our people as best as we can.
“Maidenhead has been a really excellent town and a fantastic home to us since we launched. It will continue to thrive, I have no doubt.”