Recent reports in the newspapers focusing on the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s latest crusade regarding distribution warehouses – March of the mega depots – should not be dismissed out of hand, warns Lisa Fitch of NAI Fuller Peiser.
“This needs to be taken seriously, regardless if the hypothesis on which it is based is false or not,” she said. “The reality is that following these reports the locals could be up in arms and they affect planning authorities into having tighter restrictions.”
“We may think it is foolish, but it won’t be when you have to relocate or get a new depot and you’re trying to get planning.”
The CPRE has branded sheds built on the last two decades as a “major threat to the countryside and the wider environment”. Nick Schoon of the CPRE said it was not just the fact that these buildings are the manifestation of the problem of globalisation but that their sheer physicality turned what was countryside into urban landscapes especially along the country’s motorways.
The CPRE has focused on the West Midlands where it was first alerted to the ‘mega sheds’ by Gerald Kells, its West Midlands Regional Policy Officer. Mr Kells had read a study, commissioned by the West Midlands Regional Assembly, which said that up to five regional logistics sites were needed in the region by 2021 and planners should identify suitable sites. Each would cover at least 50ha (123.56 acres) but ‘the bigger the better’. Although the environmental impact was not discussed in the study it did recommend that the sites should be connected to the highways and railway networks. The CPRE is asking other regional policy officers to report back on similar studies in other areas of the country.
Lisa Fitch said is was difficult enough to get planning permission for a variety of reasons without adding other misconceptions into the mix. She pointed out that it made it more important then ever for the industry to take practical measures to redress the environmental balance especially at the planning stage. Those schemes able to show recycling of grey water and innovations such as voltaic lighting would surely be received more favourably.
Geoff Dossetter of the FTA agreed and added: “We need to make [distribution warehouses] as environmentally friendly as they can possibly be – that is way this industry works and our critics don’t always concede that.”
Already public landowners and planners are discriminating in favour of green developments. ProLogis beat 20 other bidders including Gazeley to secure the 25.9ha (64 acre) Sideway Colliery in Stoke-on-Trent from Advantage West Midlands on the basis of its green credentials. North Rae Sanders acted for ProLogis; King Sturge and Daniel Hulme for Advantage West Midlands.
Gazeley chief executive John Duggan said: “It is great news that our competitors are starting to follow our lead and behave more responsibly towards the environment. This would not have happened prior to the launch of the Gazeley EcoTemplate nearly two years ago. Before that, it would have been unimaginable for distribution developers to compete on an eco platform.”
In October 2004, following two years of research costing £660,000, Gazeley launched EcoTemplate, a model for developing environmentally and socially responsible warehousing at low cost across Europe.
The framework for eco-efficient development suggests initiatives that can be introduced immediately – at a cost of just 50p/25p more per sq ft on standard industry build costs – to achieve significant environmental improvements covering landscape issues; C02 emissions; energy savings; water usage; recyclable and prefabricated materials. An outline timetable was set for increasing improvements over time as technological advances and economies of scale increase availability.
In January 2005, Gazeley completed it’s first EcoTemplate building totalling 41,344 sq m (445,035 sq ft) located at G.Park Bedford. The warehouse was speculatively built and was let in March last year let to Woolworths, which Gazeley said would reap the rewards of a significant reduction in running costs. The 11 key initiatives fitted, for example, will cut water usage by 45 per cent, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and harvest 6 per cent of the energy requirement from natural resources. In July, Legal & General Property purchased the freehold of the warehouse unit from Gazeley and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for £43.6 million.
A recent study of buildings in North America and the UK by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) says there is a link between the market value of commercial property and its environmental friendliness.
The RICS study says that green buildings can earn higher rents and prices, attract tenants and buyers more quickly, cut tenant turnover and cost less to operate and maintain. It also says that, while tenants of green buildings can see the benefits of a more comfortable and productive working environment, the owners and developers of commercial real estate have been harder to persuade of the business advantages.
RICS chief executive Louis Armstrong said: “Forty per cent of carbon emissions come from buildings. Finding incentives to make them ‘greener’ in design and operation is critical.”
Gazeley, in joint venture partnership with MetLife, has started construction of two environmentally-friendly warehouse units totalling 42,274 sq m (455,045 sq ft) at Magna Park UK. The EcoTemplate distribution facilities are being built speculatively.
The units have been branded ‘Therma’ and ‘Solar’ to reflect the energy saving and eco-efficient measures incorporated in the buildings’ design. Therma and Solar will feature 15 key elements of the EcoTemplate model including photovoltaics, five per cent additional roof lights, a totem (renewable energy source), low water appliances, solar thermal hot water module and a roof water collection and recycling system.
The eco-initiatives featured at the units – Thermo 16,710 sq m (179,880 sq ft) and Solar 25,563 sq m (275,165 sq ft) – are fitted at no extra rental cost to the potential occupier.
Joint letting agents M3 and Burbage Realty are quoting rents in the region of £56.51 per sq m (£5.25 per sq ft). Gazeley’s construction partner GSE will oversee the development programme.