Premises for a Productive Economy

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This is a key issue. We all know of the pressing need to provide more homes and the focus is increasingly turning to low density industrial areas in towns and cities.

This is the right thing to do because these areas can often contribute much more through redevelopment than they currently do. However, the resulting increase in land values risks squeezing out space for businesses.

We need both – new homes and an eco-system of premises for a variety of activity, from invention and start up to making products and providing services. This is vital to a dynamic economy.

However, the range of business premises needs is often not well understood. Co-working is an example of a need identified by specialist developers which has now become mainstream.

But there are others with great potential that continue to be under-provided for. In Bristol, for example, the universities have a world class scientific research base and the Unit DX Incubator is indicative of the potential.

Nash Partnership worked with the people behind this to secure planning permission for conversion of an existing building to provide lab and collaboration space to address an unmet need. The location close to the city centre is important and demand now outstrips supply.

There is, then, a requirement to better understand economic potential and hidden demand. Creative approaches to design and investment that break out of the established models are required. These should include stacking light industrial, lab and incubator space in multi-storey buildings as part of higher density mixed use redevelopment.

Also, phased approaches that incorporate temporary provision of space for, say, science-based and other high-tech start-ups. This can include re-use of existing buildings and structures such as shipping containers, to help evidence demand that is otherwise not visible.

Planning authorities, too, should plan positively for relocation of those businesses that do need to be in sheds, placing them on main transport routes to enable higher intensity use of more central sites.

Amongst the first tenants of Unit DX, new start up Ziylo was sold this year for over £600m. Harry Destecroix, one of Ziylo’s founders, is backing an expansion of space for science-based businesses in central Bristol.

I asked him what would happen without Unit DX and more like it. His reply was that many potential new businesses would simply not form in the city. So, there is an important relationship between the type of development we deliver and the dynamism of the local economy

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