London must continue its battle to keep industrial land, create more of it, and think differently about the sector if the capital is to reverse a trend and be a fully rounded, global city. And intensification, embracing more multi-storey units and co-location might be the way to go – even in non-traditional, more central locations.
Those were some of the key points made at a breakfast talk at NLA London, which considered the fact that since 2001, over 1,300 hectares of industrial land in London has been converted for other uses, including housing.
We are seeing a big shift in this landscape, said NLA director Lara Kinneir as she introduced Andrew Smith, partner and head of industrial team, Carter Jonas. ‘We have lost huge swathes of land’, said Smith, and factors like a growing population, a rapid rise in demand for urban logistics and a ‘relentless growth in e-commerce’ means that space is at a premium, but supply is not responding. Land values have also risen sharply and although west London has been the traditional home for much industrial – airside rentals near Heathrow being some of the highest in the world – east London has the advantage of a better supply of land coming up, said Smith.
Looking forward, the sector needs to consider increasing levels of site coverage, more co-location such as industrial within mixed use schemes, and more multi-storey schemes of the kind that are so common in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the Far East. London has just one such scheme, so very little in terms of a pricing model and also has a ‘staggering’ difference in business rates, but several more, new multi-storey projects are being proposed. One is a three-storey warehouse by Gazeley in Canning Town and other foreign investors such as ProLogis are also showing interest in similar projects.
Segro’s Alan Holland agreed that London must be brave, embrace change and think differently, with perceptions of industrial buildings having moved on from ‘Dickensian’ notions of the factory. ‘We’re in a world of unprecedented change’, he said. ‘We have to adapt’.
Part of that is to stop calling factories ‘sheds’, Holland joked, but industrial schemes should recognise and reflect that the choice of the consumer is paramount, that ‘last mile’ has turned the world of logistics upside down, and that perhaps we should be using the Thames more in that regard, despite its tidal nature. Segro is developing a scheme co-located with housing, and Holland believes there is no reason why these projects should not become the norm, and in more central locations.
Aukett Swanke director Tom Alexander showed how his R&D-driven practice is looking into evolving industrial buildings as ‘biospheres’ in which many different operations are possible. Alexander said one project involved a multi-level transformation of an existing warehouse, another combining residential whilst preserving public space; one scheme including a bus depot and another still including retail space and a project including a rooftop public park.
The important thing, said Caroline Harper, chief planner at Be First, is to ensure that planning is delivery focused, and instead of being ‘rigid’ it should be open to a flexible approach. ‘We are, as a city, very behind in using our land intensively’, she said.
‘We have to seize the opportunity’, agreed Holland. ‘Land is scarce. We have got to break the mould and stop being so narrow and rigid. We should take a bit of risk and go for it.’