South West London’s industrial parks are weathering the pandemic and have a clean, green, hi-tech future as they evolve into destinations, Real Estate Live UK has heard.

‘The Rise of Industrial and Logistics in South West London’, on 6 October, held in partnership with Aviva Investors, Barwell Business Park and Merton Industrial Park, discussed the sector post-COVID-19 and beyond.

Panel speakers acknowledged that many businesses had suffered from the pandemic but the sharp rise in online sales during lockdown had provided green shoots for retail and logistics. Going forward, the sustainability sector and continuing evolution of industrial parks would offer further opportunities.

Robert Bradley-Smith, Vice President, Altus, said: “We’ve seen a change within the online sector, with the likes of Ocado [who have a last-mile facility at Merton] going for the faster delivery that we want as a population.

“In the South West area, and at Barwell, we’ve actually seen more demand from the medical sector, driven not by COVID-19 but possibly a lack of speculative development. We’ve just let 40,000 sq ft to Steris to facilitate instrument sterilisation for hospitals, along with Wheelfreedom, a wheelchair specialist provider.”

Colin Lawrence-Waterhouse, asset manager, Aviva Investors, said pull factors for South West London included excellent transport links, high quality of life, a large skilled workforce and “limited land supplies which means demand is kept high for existing industrial stock.”
The types of employers taking up industrial space has begun to change, Colin added.

“Barwell and Merton have seen a bigger shift to more hi-tech and R&D type uses,” he explained. “Even in logistics, in Amazon and Ocado, the level of automation is so high that the specialist engineering and IT levels they have to fulfil are now a major part of the workforce.

“There isn’t a one-size fits all occupier these days – there has been a great shift in the diversification of businesses.”

Ollie Bycroft, Vice President, Development and Leasing, Prologis, agreed some opportunities had emerged from the difficulties of the pandemic.

He said: “A lot of the processes we had prior to COVID have really accelerated.”

Prologis has seen record take-up of its units this year with online grocery sales experiencing 10 years’ growth in the last nine months.

He added: “There are opportunities within logistics and it’s been a problem for our customers and occupiers to find enough staff.”

Chris Lee, Director, Environment and Regeneration at Merton Council, referred to the Mayor of London’s ambition to double the green economy in London by 2030, and said: “We see the industrial estates continuing to adapt and be flexible and delivering some of those green jobs. I am keen to hear from the sector as to what we can do to help support that.”

He added: “There are a whole range of uses we can be looking at. There is demand for housing and if we want to have mixed-use estates, how can we balance that alongside a logistics sector that’s operating 24/7?”

Duncan Brown, Assistant Director of Regeneration & Strategic Housing, Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames, believed industrial parks could become destinations in their own right, saying:

“Kingston communities are cut off from industrial parks and I do think they need to be better integrated. With an ever-increasing density in our neighbourhood, residents need further spaces to explore and enjoy, and industrial parks provide that opportunity. They have changed, they have modernised, they have amenities.”

“Placemaking” was hugely important to industrial parks, Colin agreed, and added: “I always describe Barwell as an industrial business park. It’s landscaping, external seating areas and amenity mean it isn’t a conventional industrial estate and certainly doesn’t feel like it.

“We’ve improved the amenity by welcoming family-run bakery cafe, Coughlans onto the park and increased occupier engagement through events, newsletters and a twice-yearly newspaper, to grow the community feel. Similarly, we’ve enhanced the quality and refurbishment specification of our units to ensure we’re creating high quality working environments, but we won’t stop there. Installing EV (electric vehicle) charging points and improving cycle storage are next on the agenda.”