Industrial mixed-use: a new urban typology?

JW

Contact Jamie Webb, Head of Benoy EMEA
jamie.webb@benoy.com

In order to meet the UK’s housing demand, developers are looking to existing industrial sites as potential development opportunities. With industrial space coming under increased pressure, Jamie Webb, Head of Benoy EMEA, considers how industrial-led mixed-use schemes in urban centres could help resolve key challenges and generate value.

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Across the UK, strategic industrial land is under threat. In London and other cities, developments are encroaching onto valuable brownfield sites and consuming space previously dedicated to light industrial and manufacturing services. The key driver here is housing demand, with recent estimates putting the number of new homes needed in England alone at up to 345,000 a year. But while generating new housing stock is essential, if we keep ceding industrial land to residential, pushing vital services out to the suburbs and beyond, local businesses, economies, and cities as a whole, will begin to suffer. 

More than ever before, light industrial services are becoming integral to urban value chains, with logistics, waste management and other key functions supporting a range of modern business operations. Recognising the value of these services and the need to maintain their centrality in urban areas, there is now policy level support for the protection of industrial land. 

In late 2019, for example, the London Plan Panel report stated: there is likely to be a need, in quantitative terms, for more industrial land [than originally assumed] to meet future demand to 2041”, recognising the importance of ensuring that London, like other cities, has the industrial…space capacity [it] requires to function sustainably”. And currently, city councils across the UK are advising boroughs and other stakeholders to promote, manage, and where appropriate, protect strategic industrial land. 

Mixing it up

So, how to preserve our cities’ industrial spaces while meeting increased demand for urban development? At Benoy, we believe the answer lies in a new form of industrial mixed-use, whereby different typologies, which have traditionally been kept apart, are combined and co-located on the same site. 

With the shift to online retail, we are already seeing last-mile logistics, click-and-collect and fulfilment starting to reshape existing buildings and redefine the ground-floor level’. Indeed, the conversion of existing assets, particularly retail, is gaining momentum. In late 2019, investment trust NewRiver purchased Sprucefield Retail Park in Northern Ireland for £40m, with a view to developing a logistics hub. And in early 2020, Ravenside Retail Park in Edmonton was bought by industrial property company Prologis for £51.4m, also for logistics purposes. 

As this trend accelerates, the way in which buildings meet the ground is changing, providing opportunities to add value by elevating the ground plane and transforming the urban podium. The simple, large-footprint units found on such sites, which have no need for the air rights above them, also provide the perfect platform upon which to develop other uses. At Benoy, we see great potential in heavily serviced, ground-hungry operations which, with residential, recreational and commercial integrated above, and positive ground-scaping below, can create economically viable, human-centric schemes that meet the needs of local businesses and residents. 

Industrial business parks, retail parks, big-box retail and warehousing – every city centre or outlying urban area has strategic sites which could be leveraged and repurposed to blend core uses. And not only would these new typologies provide a sustainable solution to spatial constraints and development imperatives, they would help to generate value. In the current climate, with retail tenants fading and office tenants fluctuating, the combination of good industrial covenants and long-term residential tenancies is a compelling proposition for developers. What’s more, by keeping light industrial services in urban centres, we can help to retain jobs and drive local economies. 

'Industrial business parks, retail parks, big-box retail and warehousing – every city centre or outlying urban area has strategic sites which could be leveraged and repurposed to blend core uses. And not only would these new typologies provide a sustainable solution to spatial constraints and development imperatives, they would help to generate value.'

Shifting perceptions

At Benoy, we have deep expertise and experience in designing mixed-use schemes with heavy and complex servicing requirements. Working with existing urban fabric, we ensure our designs are context-responsive and considered. Our Victoria Square Development in Woking for example, has brought a town centre to life through the successful combination of retail, build to rent, hospitality, major infrastructure and public realm.

What’s needed now is to shift perceptions by demonstrating that light industrial can occupy a similarly central role within mixed-use urban schemes. Because very soon there won’t be much choice. Already planning authorities are starting to mandate mixed-use as part of project briefs, while housing targets are necessitating new ways of developing residential. What’s more, the majority of conventional urban development sites have been used up, and we cannot build on greenspace. So, if we want to protect strategic industrial land, meet housing demand, and keep vital services within city limits, the evolution of industrial-led mixed-use schemes is essential. From a social, economic and sustainability perspective, they are vital to our urban futures.