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Sheds don’t need to be boring

Posted 01/11/2017

by Patrick McNamara

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I spend a lot of time thinking about sheds, logistics infrastructure and how we keep supplying an economy that loves doorstep delivery. In the upcoming London Plan it appears that Sadiq Khan has been thinking about it too, promising a dramatic change of tone in terms of protecting Strategic Industrial Land (SIL).

While this is welcome news, SIL has already been hit hard in cities up and down the country. Balancing a growing housing crisis with an ever-increasing demand for industrial land is one of the key challenges for our urban centres. To counteract a historic loss of SIL in the UK, we need to think creatively about how to make better use of these sites; how can we sweat the asset (including a combination of employment and residential space), increase returns and change public perceptions of the sector.

What I’m talking about is multi-storey warehouses, the kind that have gained popularity in some of Asia’s most densely populated cities including Singapore and Hong Kong. The commercial reasoning is clear – in an area where land values are soaring and demand is high you need to maximise floor space in a site. Moreover, the long term thinking behind such initiatives is sound. By increasing density now you can future proof urban area’s supply chain and distribution needs when the inevitable rise in housing stock occurs, instead of demolishing and restacking later.

So the commercial and strategic objectives add up. But public perception may be a bigger task. Logistics doesn’t excite, and public consultation for logistics can often struggle to fully engage local communities, never mind a new multi-storey concept. This problem will surely only be exacerbated when showing plans to key stakeholders and decision makers – no doubt many of whom will be conscious of upcoming elections and a public backlash.

To solve this problem we need to be produce schemes with design merit. Very few Councils want to push through ugly residential towers, and make it a task for anyone wanting to do so. This problem does not change when it comes to sheds, it amplifies. So to bring forward commercially sound, strategically focused schemes we need to focus first on a design-led approach to sheds.