A lively panel debate exploring everything from planning challenges facing mixed-use developments to changing the public perception of industrial uses.
On Thursday 3 October 2019, Howard Kennedy welcomed guests for its latest Economic Breakfast Briefing on "Opportunities from industrial sites for mixed use developments". The three expert panellists were Honor Fishburn Director of Placemaking at Battersea Power Station, Martin Meech Group Property Director of Travis Perkins and architect Tom Alexander Director of Aukett Swanke. Chaired by Howard Kennedy's Head of Construction James Stewart, the panel covered topics ranging from planning challenges facing mixed-use developments to changing the public perception of industrial uses.
A recurring theme of the discussion was that for mixed-use developments on industrial sites to succeed, there needs to be a paradigm shift in public perception of industrial uses Tom highlighted that parts of the urban community still consider industrial sites to be noisy, dirty and polluted and as such are wary of mixed-use developments. In reality nowadays few industrial sites fit this stereotype and, even where they do, where a mixed-use development has benefited from a high quality level of design, the residential occupants would not be affected by the industrial use.
Martin highlighted that in his experience, where industrial sites were used for mixed-use developments, the proposed plans were almost always more attractive to the residential community than what occupied the site before. Communication with the residential community is important to change perceptions; a mixed-use project Tom worked on introduced transparent faced industrial units onto to the local cricket pitch to become part of the community who bought into the development because of the clever design and dialogue with the developers.
Blending Residential with Industrial
The panel unanimously agreed a key ingredient in a successful project is blending the industrial and residential elements. All parties involved, including the contractors, must buy into the mixed-use ethos of the project rather than considering it simply one use on top of another. Good partners in a development understand the need to build a community in mixed-use developments through integrating the industrial elements with the residential ones. Honor suggested the ultimate goal of any mixed-use development was to create a community with an eco-system of ideas and cross-pollination between the residential and industrial spheres. Similarly to that of the Battersea Power Station development although it is a historically industrial site in a mixed use regeneration project – and a slightly separate case. A practical example of successfully blending the industrial and residential provided by Tom was a project where glass fronts were again put on industrial units containing an Aston Martin garage and a prop store; this gave the residential members of the mixed-use development an insight and two way connection with the industrial tenants sharing the public spaces.
However, the panel also noted that for a mixed-use development to be successful there could be no compromise on either the residential element or industrial element of the project; it must be market best in both spheres. Tom highlighted the development must offer residential occupants attractive surroundings and an 'enjoyable walk or cycle to work each day'. This can be achieved by strategic place-making, including quickly splitting up vehicle and pedestrian routes into the industrial and residential elements of the development, having their own clear front doors, and with a market best industrial yard access tucked away.
The role of planning authorities
To ensure residential and industrial elements can be successfully blended in a development, the support of planning authorities is required. However, perceptions of mixed-use developments amongst some in the planning community also need changing if such projects are to be successful. In Martin's experience, planning authorities can often be slow to process schemes and there has, on occasion, been a conflict between policy planners and local-authority planners. He also highlighted that industrial / residential mixed-use developments do not easily fit into the out-dated use classes provided in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987; to encourage such developments, the use classes should be updated.
The surge in demand for industrial land in London means the authorities need to encourage mixed-use industrial / residential development. Martin highlighted that between 2000 and 2015, 36% of industrial land in London disappeared, yet between 2016 and 2021 an increase in parcel deliveries of 60% is predicted, which will require industrial sites to process the packages. Consequently, the value of industrial land has increased much faster than the value of residential land. To combat this lack of industrial space, Tom suggested that there should be an intensification of use on the footprints of industrial sites and that London should start "looking up", like Hong Kong and New York have done.
An attendee at the briefing was a representative of the Greater London Authority (GLA) and she asked the panel what they would like to see from the GLA to support mixed-use schemes. Martin suggested that if the GLA promoted some of their own industrial land this would assist in changing the public perception, Honor said that the support of the GLA and local authorities was vital as new approaches to mixed use development become possible.
Location of developments
The panel also considered that a well-chosen location was key to success. A location with good access and nearby main roads made place-making easier, with different access point for each use. However, Tom highlighted that if a site was not blessed with such access, this may not be a fatal flaw. By having an open mind, design strategies overcoming access issues whilst not impacting on the quality of living or working for residents and tenants can be implemented; Tom stated he has worked on some extraordinary sites where at first glance, they would seem impossible to develop.
Good transport links are also essential for the residential community of a mixed-use scheme due to the lack of space for parking. Martin stated that as timber-merchants have often taken over the sites previously used by coal-merchants, many of Travis Perkins sites are near canals or railway hubs and, as such, are ideal locations for mixed-use developments.
The panel agreed that industrial / residential mixed-use developments should contain affordable housing elements for those who worked in the area. Without affordable housing, those working in the industrial elements of a development may be forced to commute considerable distances to work. Martin highlighted that, with hindsight, he would have incorporated some affordable housing into Travis Perkin's St Pancreas project. Honour discussed the Battersea Power Station scheme which provided affordable housing to the 'creatives' who worked at development but would be unable to afford the area otherwise. Having creatives living in the development was essential for the growth of the Battersea development community.