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Guide: what to look for in Industrial Units

On the surface, industrial properties are very simple. Most units tend to be functional, no-frills, metal boxes in out-of-town industrial parks, used either for storage or as working facilities for manufacturing, logistics, chemicals companies.

But that doesn’t mean that finding and renting one is straightforward. There are a whole range of things you need to think about before you sign a lease – from the intricate physical details of the building itself, to the true costs of running it once all the hidden factors are taken into account.

If you have extra requirements, such as especially high power capacity for heavy duty machinery, or enhanced security for high-value stock, bear in mind that not all industrial units are made equal. It’s better to shop around than to settle for a unit that will cost you more in the long run.

We’ve prepared a short guide to industrial units, with what to look out for, and what to bear in mind, when you come to searching the market.

Assess your own needs

If a warehouse is just being used for storage, then it’s generally pretty straightforward, although even this varies a lot: if you are going to be stacking goods up high then you’ll need the space for specialist equipment such as cranes and robotics to work freely.

But if you’re using a warehouse as a plant for manufacturing or processing, with heavy machinery involved, your requirements might be very different. Having a clear list of what those requirements are, and what sort of machinery and equipment you will be using is the first step.

Building specifications

Beyond the basics of height, floorspace and the layout, it’s important to know what ratio of a warehouse is allocated as office space and how much is for typical industrial use. Beyond this there are numerous considerations to bear in mind, such as what type of lighting, gas, and broadband utilities are in place (and whether you’ll need to alter these yourself), as well as the types of doors installed, whether there is designated parking and yard space, and whether the temperature controls suit your needs. All of this needs to be factored into the cost – many leases require the tenant to pay for upgrades and installation of extra facilities.

Connectivity

Whether it’s for storage space or as a working plant, it’s vital that an industrial unit is easily accessible. Most warehouses tend to be well connected, with good access to a motorway. But in big cities you will often find industrial sites surprisingly close to the centre. If you’re operating a retail fulfilment centre that serves that city these can seem ideal, but bear in mind that urban warehouses tend to be older and may not be kitted out with cutting edge features.

If you’re serving a wider area, or region, the best bet is to be as close to a motorway as possible. There are strategic locations nationally – the East Midlands contains an area known in logistics circles as the ‘Golden Triangle’, between Birmingham and Nottingham, with key motorways the M1, M6 and M42 running through it – or hubs that are more focused around particular cities.

Connectivity also means having good facilities on site for loading and unloading goods. Make sure you check a building’s loading bays, and the rules governing centralised facilities for receiving goods, such as permitted hours of use, and make sure these tally with your own needs. Check the local street network to make sure there aren’t any low bridges or other restrictions on heavy goods vehicles needing to access your site.

Guide to industrial use class

Within industrial commercial property there are even more use classifications and sub-classifications than in retail. For good reason in fact, because industrial property uses can include dealing with noisy, hazardous, potentially toxic, or just downright smelly products and machinery that can’t be located too close to other parts of a town.

Planning regulations and local authority planning departments aren’t always popular with developers and occupiers, but in industrial property it’s important that certain buildings are strictly classified and regulated. This means it’s important that any potential tenant understands the regulations fully. This is something your surveyor or solicitor can help explain in detail, but here’s a quick guide to key things you need to know about industrial property classifications.

Classifications

There are eight sub-groups within the B class, from B1-B8. But unless you’re involved in some extremely niche industrial activities – boiling blood, breeding maggots, scraping fish skins or dealing in rags and bones, all of which fall within the ‘Special Industrial Group’ covered by Class B7 – then there are three main classes that will be of interest. In most cases regulations allow for building uses to be changed, with consent from the landlord (which can be tough to get). Each class comes with a prescriptive list of pre-determined uses to which it can be changed if a user wishes.

Class B1

This covers a broad range of commercial uses, including offices, although many office buildings will be in the A Class for reasons explained in our guide to retail usages. Class B offices are generally linked to industrial activity, being used for research and development purposes, or some light industry uses, provided they are suitable to be placed within or nearby a residential area. This category covers a big proportion of all industrial activities and businesses within the sector, including manufacturing, telecoms and other utilities, and warehousing, as long as they aren’t likely to be a nuisance to surrounding areas.

Class B2

Covers a wide range of “general industrial” uses, which will include typical manufacturing, engineering, production and machine construction or repair facilities. B2 sites include heavier industrial purposes that aren’t going to be placed near urban or residential areas. They still have certain restrictions, with certain uses excluded, such as the handling of certain chemicals which might be hazardous or polluting, incineration of waste materials, and landfill. B2 property can potentially be converted to B8 usage.

Class B8

The key classification for the distribution and logistics sectors. With every year that passes, as online shopping becomes more popular and home deliveries increase, this class becomes more important. B8 encompasses the whole range of warehouses, distribution centres and fulfilment centres used by retailers, couriers and third party logistics (3PL) providers. Also includes open-air storage facilities. With permission from a landlord B1 properties can be converted to B8 use, and vice versa.