...as he gets excited about the finer details of new industrial warehouse developments and why ‘churning out metal boxes’ isn’t as easy as you might think.
I doubt it’s just me, but I get a real thrill when walking around a newly completed development, seeing how everything that has been so carefully planned finally become a reality. Recently, as we took a pre-PC walk around the new units at Mere Grange, St Helens, it was no different. It was the little details that I got excited about as we believe that they can make a big difference.
As a developer and investor, we plan to keep hold of our new units when they are fully let, we may even keep them beyond the tenure of the first occupiers. This means they need to be as future-proof as we can make them, but with technology constantly evolving, how do we keep up with our occupiers’ needs?
The challenge of an unknown occupier
Whilst it may appear easy to churn out ‘metal boxes’, it is tough to speculatively develop any property well. A particular challenge with industrial property is that you don’t know what the end user will do, and the diversity can be enormous. Occupiers could specialise in manufacturing, wholesale distribution, retail distribution, repairs and maintenance, testing, R&D, it really could be anything.
Versatility is therefore essential, and it is normally captured by an ‘institutional specification’ which is great, even though no-one can tell you who wrote it, or even where it might be written. It does work, but it only really captures the big things like height, elevation ratio, office content, yard size etc. All of which Mere Grange scores well in by the way, as we want it to have the broadest appeal and without compromise when it comes to site layout and unit configuration. For example, our yards are located along the length of the building rather than the gable, as a result there’s always more than enough room to circle an artic. Employee parking is then separate to the commercial yards with their own dedicated access points for ease and safety.
So, it is great that a development is ‘institutional’, but this is like saying a new car has four wheels, four doors and a boot. It doesn’t really differentiate it, it just means it is fit for purpose. You may already know that the industrial warehouse sector is currently doing well, which has naturally led to an increase in development activity. However even in the current climate, the margins for developing light industrial in the regions are still tight. The easy, short-term solution would be to cut corners on the build-spec whilst capitalising on the current market strength by trading out. That isn’t for us, we have been building, buying and renting out industrial property since the early 80s and intend to be doing it for much longer yet. Our experience shows us that sustainable long-term value, for both our occupiers and ourselves, comes from spending a little more on the build quality and specification.
This is all well and good to write about, but how do I prove it? If you have managed to read this far and maintain interest, be warned that it may now get a bit nerdy whilst I give you just a few examples of what I mean…
It genuinely begins with the teams. Our development team has built nearly 3 million sq ft of light industrial property. That’s not the total of their collective experience, which is much more, it’s how much they have actually built together as a team. Then we have a professional team, with whom we have worked for many years on many projects. And it doesn’t end there, we also draw upon a combined 65+ years of experience of operating industrial property that we have at Network Space. Although we have no shortage of experience, we also have enough to know that we must keep learning and embracing new technology and designs to stay ahead.
Let the building do the talking
Now, to the buildings. In the warehouses, we build a 2m high block perimeter wall. Not unique, but not that common either. Why? Because it provides a clean perimeter of the warehouse floor (no nooks and crannies for dirt and rubbish to collect) and also prevents cladding damage by wayward fork trucks. Not only that, we then install a galvanised steel trim above the blockwork to prevent other dirt and rubbish accumulating on top too.
On the warehouse floor, convention often provides for 37.5kN/m2 loading, we provide for 50kN/m2 which is nearly a third stronger. For the loading doors, we don’t install a threshold but a clean interface between warehouse floor and concrete yard. Thresholds prevent water ingress but cause problems when manoeuvring loads, so we put in a very slight ramp up to the outside of the door so that rainwater falls away while also upgrading the bottom seal on the door to keep draughts out.
Over-head, energy efficient, hi-spec LED warehouse lights, which aren’t much to look at, provide a low-profile bright, clean and even illumination. Whilst it costs us more, and the consequent saving will be enjoyed by the occupier, this is an example of us delivering sustainability wherever possible. We are proud to demonstrate this at Mere Grange with the securing of a BREEAM rating of ‘Very Good’ and EPC ratings of ‘A’.
Moving to the office, these are built on the first floor which gives an occupier maximum warehouse floorspace with the ability to install whatever they like underneath, a canteen, shower block, laboratory, extra offices or small item inventory racking, again it could be anything. See what I mean about diversity? Every modern office (and warehouse) requires a high-speed broadband, so we made sure the fastest possible is available by bringing fibre to the premises (FTTP), providing speeds of up to 1Gbps.
Don’t get me started on the aesthetics. Rather than a cost efficient and bland, monotonous application of cladding, we prefer a finely balanced architectural mix of profile cladding types, rhythmical bands of brickwork and composite microrib panels to frame a curtain wall glazing around the office entrance. Enough to get the pulse racing of any true ‘shed-head’!
I'd like to think our new industrial warehouse units are built with a similar philosophy to Dave Brailsford's "aggregation of marginal gains", we will make them a little better in lots of places. But we won’t take sole credit for doing this, we have achieved this by listening to and working with our architects, our technical advisers, our professional team, our contractors and their sub-contractors. In turn we produce what we all think are pretty fantastic developments.
Credits for the Mere Grange Industrial Warehouse development are as follows:
ASA Steel Structures
GM Site Services
ABS Brymar Floors
Raise Floor Solutions
CM Oxendale Ltd
Omega Red Group Ltd
Delta Balustrades Ltd
Gibson and Ryan