SHD Logistics caught up with Andrew Gulliford, chief operating officer of property investment and development company Segro, at the recent launch of Segro's "Keep London Working" report, to talk technology, urban logistics and multi-level warehousing.
The report is a rallying cry to ensure there is sufficient industrial land to support London's economic and population growth.
The 10 key recommendations from the "Keep London Working" report are:
- The GLA (Greater London Authority) should undertake a London-wide review of Strategic Industrial Land and the London Plan policy 2.17 (Strategic Industrial Locations)
- The GLA should prepare a full and comprehensive demand assessment for industrial land recognising that certain non-logistics-based sectors have the propensity to demand some logistics floorspace as part of their operations
- The GLA should undertake a full review of policy designations for industrial land to ensure they are fit for purpose and reflect the most appropriate locations for urban logistics operators across the full range of operation types, as well as other sectors which have a significant logistics component to their activities
- The London Plan should acknowledge and make provision for last-mile requirements for land and premises within inner and Central London
- The London Plan should recognise the location requirements of urban logistics operators in establishing industrial locations, noting that locations out of London are unlikely to enable them to perform effectively
- Flexible planning policies should be devised to take account of the rapidly evolving technical and operational needs of urban logistics occupiers
- The GLA should investigate a requirement for replacement land to be allocated or re-designated to counter losses above target levels
- Consideration should be given to the limitations for intensification of industrial uses
- Roll out of and improvements to infrastructure should be considered so as to support the industry’s adoption of environmental technologies
- A GLA industrial and logistics sounding board should be set up to provide a voice for the industry within London and to inform the implementation of the above recommendations into effective policy
How are the future demands of your occupiers - such as the increased use of technologies such as automation and robotics - being met?
Andrew Gulliford (AG)
The technology that is already there and influencing is automation and robotics, in particular with Amazon, but with others too. From a building design and product design perspective, we're seeing that automation tends to require more height, particularly for the larger, national brands. So, one of the things we think pretty hard about is height. Automation at urban logistics level tends to mean quite the opposite - lower, longer, thinner - it's all about transhipment, density, circulation space, and creating the doors for those conveyors to really work.
Another key future demand is power, which I think is something that we are much more conscious of these days than, perhaps, we were in the past. Most of our sites tend to have pretty good power, but there are some really big power pulls right now, with automation, robotics and electric vehicle charging. So, we're seeing connectivity in its broader sense - fibre and power - as really important.
Other technologies we think are most interesting clearly include alternative fuels - electric vehicles are already here and we're looking at that. But, personally I think, next on the list are autonomous vehicles. There's a lot of R&D going in from both the vehicle manufacturers and the technology guys, linking it across. I don't think they would be spending that time if they didn't think it was capable of coming together. We need to think about that.
For example, the Golden Triangle in the UK is based around the four-and-a-half-hour tachographed drive time; if you took that away, does that change the shape of the map? Talking to our customers about that - and we've also done our own thinking on this - it might actually broaden the Golden Triangle. And whilst it might expand it, actually being in the middle of the country is still a pretty good place to be from a national fulfilment centre perspective.
I still see autonomous vehicles in urban environments as being a little way off. The technology is there, but there's regulation, legislation culture... are people going to be comfortable with it? I think that's the next one down.
One potentially disruptive technology that is talked about a lot is drones. Our take on that is to keep talking to customers and to keep listening. Amazon and DHL are really investing some serious time and energy into that, but they'll still need some central facility to service that. I suppose the question for us is should we be buying airfields or flat-roofed facilities! I still think you need an amalgamation point. But drones, I can see for underpopulated areas, small payload, more so than the urban side of things - that's going to take a bit.
Urban - How far off are we from a multi-storied facility in the UK?
We already have one, a building called X2 at Heathrow, which was developed not by us but by Brixton, a company we purchased, so we inherited the scheme. There's definitely learning points on that, largely around ramp access and columns to support the upper floor. But it's very, very successful now. It took a while for customers and users to be comfortable with it. But they are comfortable with it - it's fully let.
In the Far East, they're commonplace. We're doing a two-storey in Munich right now, we're looking to launch one this year in Paris, so I t won't be too long before you see us doing a multi-storey in London as well. The vertical mixed use would be the obvious extrapolation of that. I think we need to start with single-use logistics, and get comfortable with that. We've tested it with the customers. Given the choice, they would still go with a single-storey, but in really congested urban environments, I don't think there will be that choice.
You see in the Far East the same global companies are comfortable operating in that space. I don't think there's a functional stop on us doing it. We're getting there with mezzanines - we're doing a big one for Amazon in Italy, ground floor and two mezzanines; not metal racking mezzanines, but full, actual structural mezzanines - and we're seeing a lot of the internet guys stacking up. It’s the use of automation and of robotics, which takes us back to where we started the conversation.
UKWA recently published a study entitled "Feeding London 2030"; do you see an opportunity to satisfy one of your report's key recommendations - to create an industry voice - by working with UKWA?
Of course, yes. We know (UKWA CEO) Peter Ward very well, and I've shared platforms with him. UKWA are obvious participants in this. If we are to lobby effectively, I think we need to connect resources. It's fantastic to see the GLA, the BPF, and London First backing us, too. The goodwill is there, and we can add the UKWA into that.
What are the next steps?
What we'd like to see come out of our report is to get back from the GLA that our recommendations are something they would like to take forward. We'd be very happy to take the lead in bringing that sounding board, that industry voice, together, and then getting some invites out there and getting some participants. It doesn't have to be the same people for ever, it can be on a revolving basis, but if we could get some pickup on that we would definitely go ahead with it.
Would collaboration with your competitors be key to this?
Yes, we already are. The first report on the logistics industry was commissioned by the BPF Industrial Committee - one of our guys Gareth Osbourne sits as Chair on that, our main competitors are round the table and we're trying to 'talk the sector'. I think that's important. Too few, smallish voices are not going to get through.
Thank you, Andrew.