With the UK logistics market seeing record-breaking take up and the race for space more competitive than ever, Associate Director Gareth Pritchard and Jeff Wilson, Director at Wrenbridge, assess the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Q: Wrenbridge has been very active in the south and south-east for the last few years. How has your product evolved, particularly given the current pressures the sector is under in terms of the decreasing availability of land versus the increasing demand for space?
Jeff Wilson (JW): We’re constantly challenging ourselves and our specification but one thing we’re very particular about is ensuring we don’t compromise yard space or parking to increase density. This means we have to think differently about intensification. A good example of how we’ve evolved our offering is the provision of structural mezzanines in specific urban locations. We’re finding this is particularly well received by occupiers in urban London Borough locations. Another area we look at closely at is building heights. I’m talking about how we now look to provide a higher eaves height than was traditionally the norm for mid-box urban logistics buildings. Finally, we try to design and build our speculative developments as flexibly as possible. That may sound obvious but it’s not always possible or done. Leasing three units at our Waltham X scheme to a single occupier is a great example of that flexibility delivering. They were able to occupy three units as one because of the flexible design of the scheme.
Q: As the industrial and logistics sector continues to boom, what are your ambitions in terms of market position and market proposition to occupiers? And what do you see as the key challenges in terms of securing the planning permissions you need to continue your success?
JW: We want to continue to be seen as a developer who doesn’t cut corners and who provides the very best specification. We want our customers (end users and end owners) to know they will be receiving a high-quality design and product just because ‘it’s a Wrenbridge scheme’. One of the main challenges we’re finding in terms of obtaining planning permissions is how to weave urban logistics into mixed-use or residential settings. We’ve had a number of successes with Barton Wilmore, now Stantec, where we’ve been able to demonstrate to the Local Planning Authority and to local residents that urban logistics and residential can co-exist – and do so without compromises.
Image: Dartford X
Q: What’s the overall planning policy landscape currently like for enabling logistics/distribution uses to come forward?
Gareth Pritchard (GP): I believe that planning policy has failed to keep up with the demand for logistics/distribution uses over the years and this is reflected in the chronic shortage of floorspace across the country. In my view, the generally accepted way of calculating demand for floorspace in Local Plans isn’t fit for purpose. Linked to that, I don’t believe the industry has challenged the methods used to allocate land and create Local Plans sufficiently.
The good news is we’re now seeing the importance of this engagement and the understanding of the need for more floorspace moving up the agenda. The BPF’s efforts are making a difference and its ‘Levelling Up – The Logic of Logistics’ summarises the key challenges extremely well.
Q: What do you look for in terms of sites? What’s the ‘perfect’ site?
JW: Proximity to population and proximity to work force – they come top of the list. Then we consider the shape of the site and the technical delivery aspects including planning policy, ground conditions, flooding, biodiversity and design considerations. The perfect site has a regular shape and is surrounded by highway access with no height constraints. They don’t come along every day though!
Image: Waltham X
Q: What does this mean in terms of planning policy and the complexity (or not) of unlocking sites?
GP: I think one of the key points for sites that Jeff has touched on earlier is the increasing need to locate logistics/distribution uses in close proximity to residential uses. This brings complexity. Naturally, a crucial part of the job is then to articulate to stakeholders why these types of sites are needed and how they can co-exist. This can be particularly challenging within established communities as the scale and operation of buildings can often be perceived as ‘a regional hub’ which people think would therefore be better located on the strategic road network and away from residential areas. There’s a misunderstanding and miscommunication challenge. I think more work needs to be done to articulate specifically how logistics/distribution operates in different ways and at different scales, meaning that buildings can be right-sized to their individual circumstances and location.
Q: What are your views on the growing importance of Environmental Social and Governance (ESG)? How is ESG being viewed by funders and occupiers?
JW: This is a critically important area for us. At Wrenbridge, we have a dedicated Project Management team and one of the Directors in that team – John McHale – is our Head of Sustainability. We’ve had a number of examples over the last few years where end users have chosen our scheme because of the environmental credentials and because we’ve given considerable thought to the working environment both within and around our buildings. For example, PVs are standard, 15% roof lights in the warehouse are standard and we provide showers, locker rooms and kitchen areas to help with cycling to work and feeling pride in the workplace.
Q: How is Wrenbridge incorporating social value, environmental and wellbeing factors into your proposals from a design perspective?
JW: There’s a lot we’re doing that’s focused on the workplace environment – inside and outside the building. Examples would include incorporating outside amenity areas where people can relax or take a walk at lunchtime. Or bike shelters where we’ve incorporated a new design with a green roof aimed at both encouraging people to cycle to work if they live close enough but also to help with biodiversity on site. We really think about design and how the buildings will be used by workers in the offices, the warehouse and the yards.
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Industrial, Logistics, Employment Land, ESG, Social Value, Levelling Up