Reduced life costs can prove a useful selling point when renting out industrial buildings. Citex looks at some of the ways developers are making industrial units more cost-effective to run and details the capital and maintenance costs for a typical unit.
Sizing up industrial buildings

Every year, about 7 million m2 of industrial buildings are constructed in the UK. Some of this is purpose-designed for specialist manufacturers or one-off owner-occupiers, but the vast majority of industrial units are built speculatively on industrial estates all over the country.

In the 1980s, a lot of small start-up nursery units (typically 100 m2 each) were built. Now, a typical nursery unit would be closer to 1000 m2. Above this size, the buildings are generally sized in multiples of 1000 m2, although it is rare for speculative developers to provide really big units. If they get an enquiry for a larger space, they often combine two or three medium-sized units.

The capital and whole-life costs in this article are based on a 4000 m2 unit.

How developers are cutting whole-life costs

Until recently, developers seldom thought much about whole-life costs. “Build it as cheap as you can and let the tenant worry about the running costs,” was the mantra. This wasn’t helped by the attitude of letting agents, who rarely pointed out the considerable running costs of an industrial building.

However, with rents on new units typically in the £60-100/m2 range, some developers have realised that they can differentiate their product by designing units that are more cost-effective to run. The typical running cost of a 4000 m2 standard unit is £3/m2 a year.

For example, until recently, most industrial building developers specified low-cost corrugated steel roofs. But these tend to leak badly and require expensive maintenance or replacement. A standing seam roof can overcome this problem for an additional construction cost of just £4-6/m2.

Valley gutters are a real problem on industrial buildings and are very prone to blocking, flooding and leaks. Most developers now avoid them at all costs, preferring to keep this potential hazard outside the building. The design effect is to promote perimeter gutters and larger span frames, including propped portal solutions.

The external surfaces around an industrial unit are also well-known problem areas. For example, developers that skimp on the loadings of paviours will find that they quickly deteriorate. The cost of replacement or repair can be as much as £100/m2, depending on the size of the area. Of course, this does not include the money lost in disruption to the business during the repairs. One solution is to specify thicker paviours in areas of potential run-off or ad-hoc parking by lorries.

Developers are also weighing up the pros and cons of brick outer skins and wall cladding. Brick costs more to install – £80/m2 compared with £30/m2 for cladding – but less to maintain because cladding panels are likely to be replaced every 15 years or so. However, cladding panels have the advantage of being easier to replace should, say, a lorry damage them. So, in areas prone to damage, panels can be more cost-effective.

Brick cavity walls are becoming less common, because metal cladding is cheaper (provided the correct product is specified), quicker to install, and easier and cheaper to replace if it gets damaged.

The walls and corners around loading bays are usually the parts of an industrial unit that suffer the most accidental damage from vehicles such as forklift trucks. Careful design and the specification of the right protection measures including buffers, steel bollards, column guards and high-profile kerbs can save a fortune on repairs.

Internal flexibility is also an important feature. Although most developers allocate 10% of a standard unit’s area as office space, many occupiers want to double or even treble this. Clearly, it costs little to install the substructure for new internal walls at the construction stage, whereas to dig up the floor and incorporate them later would be costly and disruptive. The same is true with incoming services, in case additional toilet facilities and so on are needed. Clever developers build these in from the outset.

Insulation levels are rarely above the minimums set by the Building Regulations. To meet the roof requirement of a 0.45 W/m2°C U-value, 80-90 mm of insulation is installed beneath the steel external skin. If this were doubled to 160 mm, the U-value would come down to 0.25 W/m2°C. This would add about £4/m2 at the construction stage but might save £500/m2 a year in reduced energy costs. Citex believes that more developers are now offering this as an option during construction, and some developers are looking at ways to facilitate retro-fitting of extra insulation so that future tenants can cut their energy costs.

External landscaping is an increasingly important feature of industrial estates as tenants want a decent environment, especially if customers are likely to visit. The trend these days is to install quite mature landscaping at the outset of a development, as first impressions are so important. But to keep maintenance costs as low as possible, the move is towards low-maintenance shrubs and well-mulched ground cover.

Internal redecoration costs are generally quite low and many tenants do not bother to paint masonry walls. Externally, doors, windows and eaves are usually the only areas that require occasional repainting.

Case studies

Wednesbury One, West Midlands

Situated on land originally bought from the Black Country Development Corporation, Wednesbury One is a 4 ha prestigious development of industrial units with associated offices, generally sized to meet occupier requirements. To date, landlord and developer A&J Mucklow (Investments) has completed three units: one for Amari Plastics worth £900 000, one for Newmond worth £730 000 and one for Trophy Foods worth £1.24m.

The site sees mixed use of brickwork and cladding throughout, reflecting the high-quality nature of the office/industrial units. Profile metal-clad roofs have been fitted with non-fragile rooflights in line with current health and safety legislation. Both the Amari Plastics and Newmond buildings are single-bay portals and therefore do not need valley guttering.

All three units have a minimum of two electrically operated overhead doors, protected by painted steel bollards, set within the yard slab. External areas have been fully landscaped, ensuring a pleasant environment for tenants and visitors. Tarmac has generally been used for circulatory roads, and car parks are block paved.

Service courts are lit by building-mounted flood fittings, whereas the rest of the external areas are bollard-lit.

Junction Six, Birmingham

Junction Six is a 46 000 m2 trading estate being developed by IM Properties, located off the M6 near Birmingham and set on 12.4 ha of previously heavily contaminated land.

Citex Bucknall Austin was quantity surveyor for the redevelopment and regeneration of this former GEC site. Its role included feasibility studies and liaison with English Partnerships; eventually securing £5m of funding.

With an overall cost of £8m, redevelopment of the now complete phase one comprised 19 000 m2 with gatehouse, high-level security including CCTV, off-site highways works, extensive demolition works and the removal of contaminated material.

Efforts to enhance the quality of the buildings and ensure their longevity have meant that none of the phase one buildings has valley guttering. The developer opted for perimeter gutters and larger span frames that include propped portal solutions instead. The site has reached a happy compromise on the external cladding issue, with brickwork up to 2.4 m high and cladding above this.

While many aspects of the units are built to standard (high quality) specifications, particular innovations relate to security and external landscaping. High-quality, low-maintenance external surfaces have meant increased initial installation costs, but will reduce long-term maintenance and keep vandalism levels down. The gatehouse has centralised site security and provided a base for fire and intruder alarms and CCTV. Additional features such as laminated glass, brick walls to service yards and soft landscaping mean that the buildings have been created to deter burglars. The estate has been awarded a West Midlands Police Secured by Design Award. The 28 000 m2 phase two is now well under way, with 14 000 m2 now complete.